One of Plant City’s most active charities started with nothing but hopes and dreams on a shoestring.
Something must have went well along the way, or else Unity in the Community wouldn’t be raffling off a brand new Chevrolet Corvette Stingray at the Florida Strawberry Festival.
Surely, many readers started drooling at the sight of the car. But where will their raffle money go? What kind of organization is handling it?
Unity in the Community comprises a group of people who care about the needs of the Plant City community over just about everything else. Everyone involved is a volunteer, and the organization itself is a non-profit. All of the money it raises gets poured into the areas of Plant City that need it most.
“The purpose and mission of the organization is to feed the hungry, to assist unfortunate individuals or families that are sick, unemployed, or down on their luck,” Vice Chairman Marsha Passmore said.
Joyce Jordan Hooke founded the organization in February 1999, almost on a whim: Hooke said the group members knew what they wanted to do, but had no idea how to get there.
“We had people tell us it would never work, that we’d work ourselves to death and it would never amount to anything,” Hooke said.
Contrary to the doubters’ beliefs, Unity in the Community managed to raise $15,000 in its first year with a lot of hard work.
Things got more complicated shortly afterward, when Hooke came down with an illness that forced her to take a few years off of work. Fortunately, what was then known as Kash n’ Karry stepped in, and manager Henry Falcon created a golf tournament to help out. After just a few months of planning, Falcon raised $5,000 with the tournament, which is still being held annually.
It didn’t take too long for Unity in the Community to grow on Plant City and get more support. But what really helped the organization take off was the addition of Stingray Chevrolet owner Steve Hurley.
Hurley and Hooke connected at a Greater Plant City Chamber of Commerce contact breakfast, and he ended up joining the group. With his wife, Susan, Hurley began giving the group a new car to raffle off every year as a fundraising effort.
“The first three years, he donated a new Camaro each year,” Hooke said. “Then, the next two years, he donated great, big trucks. This year, it’s the Corvette.”
With the Hurleys’ help, Hooke estimates that Unity in the Community has raised more than $500,000 since its inception.
“He has just really put Unity on the map, per se,” Hooke said. “His company has put Unity on the map because they like what Unity stood for, the idea that everything stayed in Plant City and the surrounding area, and he liked that it was all volunteers.”
The car raffle has allowed the charity to donate about $100,000 each year to those in need, spreading it around through various local organizations such as the Plant City Family YMCA, Meals On Wheels, the United Food Bank of Plant City, Lots of Hugs, Trinity Sportsman Association and Hillsborough County Public Schools Area VI.
This month is the 15th anniversary of Unity in the Community’s inception, so it’s only fitting that it’s lined up its best raffle prize yet to draw the attention of festival-goers. And although only one lucky person will cruise away in that sweet, strawberry-colored Stingray, everyone who enters the raffle can know that their donation will be put to good use in several areas.
“We just do whatever we can to help with food, and to keep kids off the street,” Hooke said.
THAT’S ONE SWEET RIDE
That 2015 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray is a speed demon’s dream car, and it can be had for as little as $5 and a lot of luck.
Those who wish to purchase raffle tickets can do so in several ways. Tickets are available at the Stingray Chevrolet dealership until 6 p.m. Friday, March 6. They can also be bought at the Florida Strawberry Festival until 4:30 p.m. Sunday, March 8. To order tickets online, visit StingrayChevrolet.com/2015-Chevy-Corvette-Stingray-Raffle before 6 p.m. Friday, March 6.
The winning ticket will be drawn at the festival at 5 p.m. Sunday, March 8.
For more information on Unity in the Community, visit UnityInPlantCity.org.