The free event will connect residents to service providers and showcase local talent.
She says it’s the “Plant City Bubble,” the isolation many within the city and its surrounding East Hillsborough areas feel from the county seat in Tampa. It’s a separation from needed services many in the area do not know are available and a sometimes blind eye towards a burgeoning artistic community.
That bubble is a large part of the reason Karen Collins, Plant City’s community services director, has been working so diligently to kickstart East Hillsborough Discovery Quest. Collins represents Plant City on the East Hillsborough Advisory Council, the organization putting on the event. Discovery Quest is as much an opportunity for residents to discover services and opportunities available to them as an opportunity to showcase blossoming talent in and around Plant City.
“We’re so isolated from what’s mostly in Tampa and Hillsborough as far as the county,” Collins said. “We’re so far out, a lot of the time people have felt like we’re just out here and nobody thinks about us but for 11 days of the year during festival season.”
The free event will be held April 7 at the Grimes Family Agricultural Center. It will feature service providers and vendors offering free and low-cost services to the community and job
opportunities. There will also be family activities, music and dance performances and an “I-4 Food Truck War,” a competition featuring top performing food trucks from Tampa, Lakeland and Orlando. The East Hillsborough Art Guild is providing a 5-by-8-foot map for Plant City and East Hillsborough, created by EHAG President Loretta Burns, that will be broken up into a puzzle and painted by attendees.
“We need enough in Plant City’s bubble to make them (people) want to come to our bubble,” Burns said of the event. “You can find what you’re looking for here if you know where to look. Even in an information age, information is spread out. You have to know what you’re looking for. This brings it all together in one spot.”
The event came to Collins after she helped Plant City host a Service Provider Area Network meeting in the fall of 2015. The meeting, she said, brought together social services, non-profit agencies and government agencies serving people in need. It was great networking for the providers, Collins said. There was just one thing missing.
“Residents weren’t able to connect to it,” she said. “They weren’t there.”
Then Plant City’s Career Source office closed and express bus service stopped running through the city in 2017, further limiting resident access to services, she said. So she decided to do something about it.
Collins got a group together, started brainstorming ideas and it was decided to bring the providers to the residents. Once the Grimes building was secured as the location, it was noticed more could be done outside of the building as well. It became more than just a way to reach people. It became a way for people to reach East Hillsborough and celebrate all this side of the county has to offer, she said.
“Karen is just…she’s a rock star when it comes to this,” Frank Trunzo, an owner of downtown’s Krazy Kup, said. “It’s a pleasure to be on board with somebody who is so committed. She’s setting a great bar and a great standard.”
The ideas came pouring in. Live music. Dance. Art. Food. One massive celebration where people can enjoy the day with their family, learn about services, maybe find a job and give back a little. Collins said the event is encouraging people to “pay it forward.” Anyone willing can purchase a meal ticket and give to someone or pass it along to an organization to give to a needy family.
Trunzo, also a world champion auctioneer, is one of many people giving seminars. Some will be about services or job hunting, his will be about auctioneering as a first or second career.
Collins said the tale of her efforts began to spread. Word of mouth got her more than 70 vendors and counting for the event’s trial run. With the growing list of events and activities, she said its almost outgrown the Grimes building. She’s already looking to bring the event back next year.
“If we’re gonna do it once,” she said, “we need to do it every year.”