Once a month, Bonnie Rybak and her fellow Rotarians unload pallets of food from a Citrus County Blessings truck at First Presbyterian Church in Inverness to be sorted and packed in bags.
On the days Let’s Feed Citrus has a food distribution, Rybak is there, loading food into people’s vehicles and doing whatever else needs to be done for the hundreds of cars filled with people needing food to feed their families or give to their neighbors.
“I mark the dates on my calendar because that’s a priority for me,” Rybak said.
And that’s true.
But, it’s someone like Bonnie Rybak, who prefers being behind the scenes doing the small but nevertheless important tasks, who is exactly the kind of person an organization — or a community — needs to thrive.
Because of her willingness to be in the background, to do the work and not expect or even desire the glory, because of her enthusiasm and energy and passion for making the community a better place, whether unloading trucks, serving on boards, tutoring or raising funds, because of her dependability and perseverance, Bonnie Rybak is the 2022 Citrus County Chronicle Citizen of the Year.
Each year, the Chronicle Editorial Board solicits the community for nominees of people who have a positive impact on the lives of others.
Rybak was nominated by Inverness businesswoman Linda VanAllen.
“Bonnie is a rare gift in our community, and it’s time she was recognized for all her hard work,” VanAllen said. “Whatever she does, whatever board she’s on, she’s passionate about making it successful and determined to do whatever she can.
“When you get to know Bonnie, you know that every day when she gets up she’s wondering who she can help that day. She puts her heart and soul into everything she does.”
HCA Florida Citrus Hospital recently held a “Healthy Food for Healthier Tomorrows” food drive to benefit Citrus County Blessings. The two-week drive amongst hospital caregivers resulted in an overall donation of 610 pounds of jam and jelly along with a $10,000 donation.
“Our charity of choice for this year’s drive was Citrus County Blessings, a local program that provides 2,300 local students across 31 schools with six meals to take home every Friday during the school year,” said HCA Florida Citrus Hospital CEO Lisa Nummi. “We learned earlier in the year that Blessings had received a generous donation of peanut butter; we chose to complement that donation by collecting jam and jelly.”
Before the jam and jelly was donated to Blessings, hospital caregivers used the jars to create a sculpture.
“In keeping with the spirit of providing “blessings in a backpack” to kids, we turned our caregiver donations into the largest jelly backpack the state of Florida has ever seen,” said the hospital’s Director of Communications and Community Engagement Katie Myers. The jelly backpack structure includes a top loop, zipper and working straps, weighs in at more than 600 pounds and is 6’ tall.
The sculpture was entered into a contest among other HCA Florida Healthcare West Florida Division hospitals and won first place: an additional $10,000 donation to Citrus County Blessings.
“Our Citrus County Blessings program thrives on relationships like the one we have with HCA Florida Citrus Hospital and its staff. It’s a great way to raise awareness, build relationships and help our children,” said Citrus County Blessings Executive Director Christina Reed. “This jelly drive couldn’t have come at a better time to complement our large peanut butter donation. We are so thankful for our friends at HCA Florida Citrus Hospital and what they were able to accomplish for our kids.”
Citrus County Blessings was one of the recipients of proceeds from the 3rd Annual Pete's Pier King of the Bay Fishing Tournament. The donation from this event will help feed food-insecure children in Citrus County.
Ben and Nancy DiVona were named Family of the Month for June by St. Scholastica Knights of Columbus Council 14485.
They moved from Selden, New York, to the Tampa Bay area in 1976 before coming to Citrus County in 1998.
Ben became a knight in 2013. He has been co-director for the Culture of Life Program since 2015 and heavily involved with the Baby Bottle Campaign. Both Nancy and Ben have assisted with the Council’s Ad Campaign and Car Show, as well as volunteer at Daystar Life Center and Citrus County Blessings.
The Knights of Columbus Council 6168 Ladies Auxiliary celebrated its 50th anniversary luncheon on May 25 by awarding a $1,000 scholarship to Jillienne Lapid of Lecanto High School, a $500 scholarship to Morgan Tomasko of Withlacoochee Technical College and more than $1,500 in grants shared by Citrus County nonprofit organizations.
The $1,500 was shared by Citrus Abuse Shelter Association, the Pregnancy and Family Life Center, Citrus County Blessings, the Citrus County Family Resource Center and the Community Food Bank.
With proceeds from its own fundraising efforts, the Ladies Auxiliary every year awards charitable gifts to county nonprofits, a scholarship to a deserving female Citrus County Catholic high school senior, and a “careerist” scholarship.
Pictured from left are: Rachelle Garret-Butler, program director of Citrus County Blessings, Donna Hayes, Beth Tarnowski, Rick Jeroski, Shirley Gamache, Bev Kelly, Jill Jeroski and Christina Reed, executive director of Citrus County Blessings.
On May 25, the packing crew from West Citrus Elks Lodge arrived at Citrus County Blessings to pack weekend food for children. This time, however, along with packing 178 bags of weekend food, the crew brought a donation for $2,000.
The donation was made possible by using the Spotlight grant from the Grand Lodge of Elks.
The West Citrus Elks Lodge has two groups of volunteers that pack food. The food is sent home with the children on Friday to be sure that they have enough to eat over the weekend.
Pictured from right are: board member Jennifer McGee, David White, executive director Christina Reed, board chair Gail Bockiaro and program coordinator Rachelle Garrett-Butler.
Special to the Chronicle
Citrus County Blessings has received a $20,000 donation from its supporter Suncoast Credit Union.
Blessings is the county’s backpack meal program for local food-insecure children. Its mission is to provide meals to local children in need through donors, partners and volunteers.
“We are incredibly thankful to have the support of Suncoast Credit Union for our Blessings program,” said Christina Reed, executive director of Citrus County Blessings. “As we all are experiencing, prices are rising across the board for food, gas, etc. Receiving this donation from Suncoast Credit Union is extremely important in helping us feed these children.”
Suncoast Credit Union has been helping to support the Citrus County Blessings program for more than seven years.
The Kiwanis Club of Inverness is the oldest local nonprofit organization actively supporting the community and youth since 1925.
For the past 97 years, Kiwanis has been active in helping to build a better community in many ways.
For the past decade, Kiwanis has provided hundreds of hours of manpower and nearly $800,000 to charities and nonprofit organizations. The global COVID-19 pandemic impacted Kiwanis in 2021 by causing the cancellation of some events, but they are still going strong.
At present, Kiwanis has 46 dedicated members and volunteers, plus a board of directors. Their main focus is supporting youths throughout the county through supporting local organizations with similar missions.
This mission is accomplished by participating in major fundraisers for groups such as the Boys and Girls Club, Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, Little League, the YMCA, local youths and school sports, Citrus County Schools, Citrus County Blessings, United Way, Fair Association, Citrus County Education Foundation, Cinderella’s Closet, Take Stock in Children, Filter Family Solutions, E-Nini-Hassee Girls Camp and the Phil Royal Legacy, as well as several annual scholarships for graduating high school seniors.
The Citrus Hills Women's Club proudly donates to many local non-profits throughout the year. Citrus County Blessings was honored to receive $2000 at their recent luncheon supporting local food-insecure children.
Citrus County Blessing’s Board of Directors and staff presented Citrus Libraries with a certificate of appreciation during their March board meeting.
Their partnership with Citrus County Blessings’ school year backpack program and summer Feed the Kids program is essential for its success. Each summer, Blessings uses several library campuses to distribute fresh produce for their program. During COVID 19, the libraries were a pivotal component to Blessings’ families getting the food they desperately needed. In addition, Blessings use the libraries as a distribution point, letting families go there during operating hours and pick up their weekend bags.