Community Roundtable honors longtime businessman John Noriega

Published February 26 2018
Updated March 2 2018

BRANDON — Never do what you do for the sake of being recognized. Do it instead because it is the right thing to do.

Those are words forever ingrained in the mind of John Noriega.

His late father, Bill’s Prescription Center founder Justo "Bill" Noriega" instilled that mantra in his son.

And the words came to mind as the younger Noriega offered impromptu thank you remarks after receiving the Community Roundtable’s 2018 Alice B. Tompkins Community Service Award at the organization’s annual dinner on Feb. 21.

The roundtable has annually presented the award for 45 years in honor of the former Brandon News editor whose civic good deeds impacted the community.

"My heart tells me to do what I do and I’m doing what God would want me to do, and that is taking care of my family and taking care of my patients," Noriega said.

Following in his dad’s footsteps, Noriega earned a degree in pharmacy in 1981 from the University of Florida — as did his sister Mary "Lulu" Noriega Denham and his son Basil in the years that have followed — and entered into the family business Bill’s father mortgaged his home to help establish.

Walt Raysick, the presenter and 2017 Tompkins Award winner, explained that John Noriega’s work at the pharmacy represents more than a job.

"For him, it is all about service," said Raysick, noting John’s extraordinary generosity toward people in need.

Noticeably humbled and visibly surprised as he took to the stage, John watched as his children — Basil, Allee and Chelsea — and his mother, Marie, emerged from hiding to surprise him at Center Place, the event’s traditional venue.

"He’s a great dad," Basil said. "He and my grandfather (Bill, who died in 2006) taught me a lot."

The Community Roundtable also named Seeds of Hope as the 2018 Nonprofit of the Year.

Founded close to 10 years ago by executive director Leda Eaton, the mission of the Lithia-based organization is to respectfully provide food to local residents in need as well as offer community service hours to high school students in the area’s schools.

Its main source of funding is from the annual FishHawk Turkey Trot, a community-centered running event on Thanksgiving morning, also established and steered by Eaton.

The nonprofit’s three-pronged approach to feeding the hungry includes a mobile food pantry that discreetly delivers food to people struggling financially — be it in a parking lot, their homes or other requested locations.

Secondly, a group of volunteer student workers come together weekly at Randall Middle School to stuff backpacks with nutritious but tasty food items to feed a family of four. They are meant for children who qualify for free school lunches to take home on the weekends.

What’s more, student helpers, under the direction of retiree Kevin Robbins, package and hand out boxes of fresh food from 5-7 p.m. on Thursdays out of a building on the grounds of the Presbyterian Church of Bloomingdale.

Robbins, who donates his time to the project, was inspired to get involved when he learned how Eaton and others associated with Seeds Of Hope helped residents in the Alafia River community whose homes were flooded in the days after Hurricane Irma.

Eaton, in fact, took a week’s vacation from her job to help the residents. She coordinated hot meals, organized rides to local gyms for residents in need of showers and provided restroom facilities and tents for flood victims.

"As a result I just felt like I should assist with the Seeds of Hope food pantry to help feed people in this area and because I like working with kids," said Robbins, who noted the undertaking typically serves about 85 families a week.

Community Roundtable Vice President Lisa Rodriguez, who presented Eaton with a $1,000 check in recognition of Seeds Of Hope being named this year’s top nonprofit organization, described it as a unique kind of food distribution endeavor.

"It focuses on planting seeds of service through youth volunteerism and seeds of hope in the people they help through food relief," Rodriguez said.

Eaton concurred, saying, "It not only touches the lives of people who are struggling, but it also touches the hearts of local students, sparking an interest in lifelong community service opportunities."

Shaun Fidler, a Bloomingdale High School senior with a 5.72 grade point average who’s also amassed more than 300 community service hours, was recipient of this year’s $1,000 Maureen Krzanowski Scholarship award, named in memory of a longtime Community Roundtable board member.

Fidler, who received the award from roundtable table president Janine Nickerson, plans to attend the University of Central Florida next year.

Contact Joyce McKenzie at [email protected]