Whether you were rooting for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Kansas City Chiefs or had no dog in the fight and donned a Bobby Boucher jersey while praising the superiority of H2O, Saturday’s tailgate was the perfect way to get your game face on.
The United Food Bank of Plant City held a Food For All Tailgate Gala Saturday evening at Plant City Stadium. Nearly every attendee rolled up in merch from their favorite team and fully embraced the tailgating experience.
The UFB would typically hold its annual Celebrity Chef at that time, but the organization wanted to switch gears due to COVID-19 and instead have an outdoor event that would allow attendees to socially distance while still raising money for the crucial organization in the community. Many donated without plans to attend, but those who did were in for a unique treat.
Tables were set out on the baseball diamond. Food booths were in front of each dugout. Cornhole and giant connect-four games were scattered among the grounds. A DJ played all of the hits you’d hear while camping outside Raymond James Stadium with your friends before the big game. Johnson Barbeque brought the heat with a mouthwatering menu.
Executive Director Mary Heysek briefly hopped on the mic to thank the crowd for their support of UFB, especially over the course of the past year when the organization has faced a demand unlike anything it has seen before. The pandemic has led to many losing their jobs and/or being food-insecure. The food bank has been a saving grace for families across the community and despite being unable to hold its traditional event, Heysek said they wanted to make sure they were still able to host something for the community to enjoy that would help UFB continue to give back.
“I always talk about our community and how unique it is, how strong it is,” Heysek said. “This year was different though and we all know it. We had so many first-time challenges and I had a front row seat to seeing extreme desperation in many of our families and our residents of our community. I saw many longtime businesses that we all know have been in business for many, many years have to make a tough decision and lay people off… The food bank experienced unprecedented growth. Prior to COVID-19 we were serving 5,000 people a month. In a matter of weeks it went up to 10,000 people every single month.”
The event acts as one of the food bank’s biggest fundraisers. In just the past year alone, UFB distributed 3 million pounds of food. Every pound of food stays with families in this community.
Heysek thanked those who have supported them and asked that they continue to think of the food bank and donate when they can to help keep food in the pantries of those in need. Following her speech, the crowd noticed a plane circling the stadium. As a surprise performance UFB had The Chuters, a parachuting demonstration team, jump from the plane onto the field with the American flag and the UFB flag. You can watch a video of the jump on The Chuters’ Facebook page.
Heysek said Food For All was a massive success and UFB hopes to make it a reoccurring event.