The fundraising event, which was canceled in 2020, returned to the new Town Center Green in 2021.
The Kiwanis Lawn Party has long held the title of biggest fundraiser and biggest social event on Longboat Key. On Dec. 4, the 2021 party earned a new honorific: Biggest Town Center Green event to date.
After a year off due to the pandemic, the event came back with a boom with 800 people at the new Town Center Green, an idea Longboat Key leadership has had for years that is finally coming to fruition.
"My dad would be so happy to see this," Suzy Brenner, daughter of late town commissioner and vice mayor Dave Brenner, said. "He really believed in a town center on Longboat Key. He would be thrilled."
Brenner was one of more than 800 people at the inaugural event on the Town Center Green, which is on Bay Isles Road behind Publix, and spent the day visiting food booths and taking in the new town venue. In the center was a massive tent that held hundreds of people at tables and around the edges were 22 restaurant booths, several wine booths and another tent for seating.
"The energy is definitely very excited," Children's Guardian Fund Executive Director Svetlana Ivashchenko said. "I didn't know what to expect. It's been a while since we've had an event like this. I'm grateful for everyone who came out, a lot of kids are going to be helped from this."
With 22 restaurants represented, lines stayed short as attendees were able to wander up, grab a small plate and head to one of the other 21 booths. Despite the crowd, attendees said the Town Center Green venue never felt overly congested.
"I'm impressed because I thought it was going to be smaller, but it's very organized and well done," said Longboat Key resident and seasoned Lawn Party-goer Jennifer Allen.
Several booths, including Chick-fil-A and Viento Kitchen and Bar, ran out of food over the course of the afternoon and closed up shop a bit early. The Longboat Key Fire Department was a hit new "restaurant" represented this year and served their firefighter chili with all the fixins, while Euphemia Haye, which has been at the Lawn Party since its conception, served up Chef Ray Arpke's famous Caesar salad. At the Harry's Continental Kitchens table, the Christensens visited with customers new and old. They've also been part of the Lawn Party since the beginning.
"Over the years, there were years it was so congested that you'd have a line, so now it's easier for customers to not have to wait in a line and just be able to grab their stuff," Lynn Christensen said.
Though the party was scheduled to end at 2 p.m., the festivities stretched out a bit longer. Emcee Andrew Vac began calling up the Children's Guardian Fund speakers right around 2 p.m., and the raffle winners were announced just after the hour.
Monica Verinder took home the grand prize 50/50 pool, which had risen to a take-home of $27,000 over the course of the day. The Doris M. Carter Family Foundation also put $20,000 towards Children's Guardian Fund's take-home, bringing the total from the raffle to $47,000. The money will go towards the foster children served by Children's Guardian Fund, and particularly towards tutoring for the children.
Join the Neighborhood! Our 100% local content helps strengthen our communities by delivering news and information that is relevant to our readers. Support independent local journalism by joining the Observer's new membership program — The Newsies — a group of like-minded community citizens, like you. Be a Newsie.