LITHIA — In Florida, outdoor concerts in the fall are an enjoyable breath of fresh air when the weather finally cools down.
But in the case of Newland Communities' 2015 Concerts for a Cause series, they also can represent an opportunity for neighbors to help neighbors.
The series, now in its fifth year, continues from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday at FishHawk Ranch's Central Park, 14215 Barrington Stowers Drive. Attendees are encouraged to donate nonperishable foods, and Newland has tabbed a different local nonprofit to benefit from the FishHawk shows this year: Seeds of Hope.
FishHawk Ranch resident Leda Eaton, the driving force behind the organization, started Seeds of Hope to help her two children, now upperclassmen at Florida State University, gain community service hours.
Since then, the group has grown in size and scope. Eaton said Seeds of Hope has a dual mission at the heart of everything it does. It primarily serves families in need in the Lithia, Valrico and Brandon areas by distributing food at a local food bank every Thursday evening, providing backpacks of food on weekends to students at various schools who receive free school lunches and offering a mobile food pantry for those who can't get to the distribution center.
Newsome High School's Seeds of Hope Club leads the food bank at Presbyterian Church of Bloomingdale, 710 E Bloomingdale Ave. Besides volunteering at the food bank, the students pack the weekend "Backpacks of Hope," conduct a winter sweatshirt drive, and lead both the annual fall Turkey Trot, which is the nonprofit's major fundraiser for the year, and the Color Your Egg Run in the spring.
"It's my way to show the kids that a charity needs to have financial viability and part of that is creating an event that can help with that," Eaton said. "The students are 100 percent involved so they can own 100 percent of making a difference by helping Seeds of Hope raise money to provide food to people in need.
"This will be great for them to draw from when they go to college — they actually did something that made a difference through hands-on experience," she added.
Many of the student Seeds of Hope Club members, like Newsome High junior Nic Ballance, continue to volunteer well past their required hours. Ballance is in charge of the Thursday evening food distribution from 5 to 7 p.m. He says an average of 25 to 30 families a week, who have gone through all sorts of troubles, often return so he gets to know them on a personal basis.
Ballance will also be leading the organization's major food distribution the Friday before Thanksgiving.
"It's really great to see the appreciation from each family," Ballance said. "We offer an opportunity for 5 to 10 Newsome students to participate every week. For Thanksgiving, we expect 200-plus families, and we are working hard to give them a Thanksgiving-themed food box so they can enjoy the holiday."
Anyone wishing to volunteer for the organization can call (813) 489-4599.
The Concerts for a Cause series alternates this fall between the Newland sister communities of FishHawk Ranch and Waterset in Apollo Beach. Feeding Tampa Bay continues to be the beneficiary of the Waterset concerts.
Newland estimates that residents of both communities have already contributed thousands of pounds of food and assisted in providing thousands of meals to Tampa Bay area residents who really need it.
"Our residents are passionate about making a difference in their community, and we couldn't be happier to support such a worthwhile project that originated in our neighborhood," said Lynda McMorrow, Newland's marketing manager.
Contact Kathryn Moschella at firstname.lastname@example.org.