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Melissa “Mel” DeMarco has built a multifaceted career founded on infrastructure. Her success in various aspects of highway construction, planning and development, mortgage banking, purchasing and material management, contract administration, politics, and journalism all have one thing in common: A solid, strong base from which to build.

The former mayor of Mount Dora and now publisher of the Mount Dora Citizen, knows from experience everything grows from a foundation that is continually maintained and fortified. That same philosophy has brought Lake Cares Food Pantry to where it is today.

The independent community agency provides food and other necessary items directly to the people who need assistance in Central Florida. In 2017, the agency served 36,201 people, with approximately 65 percent being senior and disabled clients. Lake Cares also distributed more than 15,000 pounds of food each week. On average it takes 38 pounds of food to serve one family of four for three days (3 meals per day).

But to maintain that foundation, Lake Cares needs more awareness throughout the community and more funds carry out its mission. Leaders such as Mel have risen to the occasion without hesitation.

Mel is one of 12 women participating in a fundraiser for Lake Cares that was inspired by the 2008 best-selling book “The Necklace,” which chronicled how a jewelry-sharing journey changed the lives of 13 women. Each woman wears the necklace, dubbed “Bella Diamante,” for one month raising funds and awareness throughout Lake County. The pantry is selling 1,000 raffle ticket at $50 per ticket. In the spring of 2019 at the10th Anniversary Gala at Lake Receptions in Mount Dora the winner will take home the show-stopping necklace appraised at more than $20,000. Second prize is $5,000 and third prize is $2,500.

Participating in the yearlong endeavor brought along a sense of duty for Mel. “The number of people assisted with food, and directed to needed services continues to grow, she says. “So, it’s very important.”

Agencies such as Lake Cares are vital to the future of Lake County. Lifting people out of poverty is a key to economic growth and educating clients about nutrition, health and wellness enriches the region.

During the time she wore “Bella Diamante” it made her “feel connected and a part of a greater commitment to the community.”

As the necklace continues its journey, Mel knows the foundation that built Lake Cares Food Pantry continues to be strengthened.