As Lakewood Ranch's Christine McKelvey made her way through one of the buffet lines at the Esplanade Golf and Country Club with her husband Wade, she paused to consider a fact shared by several others at the Lakewood Ranch Community Fund's first Wine & Giving event.
"I love this," she said. "I didn't know about the Lakewood Ranch Community Fund."
On Thursday night, the Lakewood Ranch Community Fund reintroduced itself to the community with its first major event since it stopped having its annual gala in 2017.
It was a smashing success as Wine & Giving was a sellout at 260 attendees.
"We are getting so many more people who are new to the community," said Lakewood Ranch Community Fund President Nicole Ryskamp. "We had all these newcomers and they invited their friends, their co-workers, their colleagues. And we were able to give them information about what the Lakewood Ranch Community Fund does."
Ryskamp said she loved the atmosphere.
"The party is back," she said. "People were excited and they want to be out. They want to be back to socializing. We couldn't have provided a better party venue for a philanthropic, socializing evening."
Capping the night was the celebration of Lakewood Ranch's Bob Smith being selected as the 2022 C. John A. Clarke Humanitarian of the Year.
"I am humbled beyond measure," Smith told the crowd, which included his wife Julie and his daughter, Amanda Tullidge Smith. "This is an unimaginable privilege."
He thanked former Lakewood Ranch Community Fund President Diane Brune for being an important "link to the chain" that led to his wife's and daughter's involvement in the Lakewood Ranch Community Fund.
"The selfless service of these three women inspired me," he said. "Amanda is God's greatest gift to me after Julie."
Also in attendance was Gene Tischer, the president of the board of Bradenton's Stillpoint Mission, which has received more than $235,000 from Smith's annual fundraising drive that began in 2012. Smith said the $235,000 translates to 1,305,555 pounds of food for the poor.
He said he is most grateful to live in Lakewood Ranch, surrounded by "Unselfishly, gobsmackingly, good friends and neighbors."
Ryskamp said the Lakewood Ranch Community Fund's goal was to raise $50,000 for the event and she said that was accomplished, although the proceeds have not all been counted yet for a final number.
"Everyone who came up to me said, 'Wow, this was awesome.'" she said.
Ryskamp said the event was the result of the hard work of event coordinator and Board Member Nancy Sykes and Executive Director Adrienne Bookhamer. She also noted that Board Member Morgan Bentley was exceptional as the master of ceremonies who led the live auction part of the event.
The Lakewood Ranch Community Fund presented 21 grants during the program that totaled $50,000 and a special $10,000 grant to the Lakewood Ranch Library.