In April, Lake Cares Food Pantry - faced both with the increasing numbers of Lake County residents landing on its doorsteps and soaring costs to keep up with the need - raffled a $21,000 necklace at its 10th anniversary gala.

The idea worked so nice Lake Cares is doing it twice. To support its hunger-fighting mission and help defray its recently acquired 4,800 square-foot warehouse area to store more goods and boost efficiency, the Mount Dora-based group, as part of its “Diamond Endowment,” is repeating its popular jewelry giveaway modeled after the group of women captured in the bestselling book The Necklace: Thirteen Women and the Experiment that Changed their Lives.

Lake Cares’ first Diamond Endowment raffle featured “Bella Diamante (beautiful diamond),” a diamond necklace appraised at $21,500. The prize this time is “Maribella,” a white gold necklace with a larger pear-shaped pendant bedazzled with 28 carats of blue topaz, teal, blue and white diamonds. It was custom designed and crafted by Gold in Art Jewelers of Mount Dora and is listed with a minimum value of $21,500. The Maribella raffle takes place April 2, 2020.

In the preceding months, each of the dozen "Women of Maribella" for a month will don the necklace, then later gather to share her experiences with the group and hand off the necklace to the next wearer. Hailing from Mount Dora, Eustis, Leesburg, Tavares, and Orlando, the "Women of Maribella" are: Holly Stratton Farley, Tina Morin, Erika Green, Kelsey Gonzalez, Edna Gonzalez, Theresa Elliott, Christina Williams Stewart, Donna Marini, Jodie McEwen, Linda and Jeanette Bokland, Cathy Hoechst, and Clara Schneider. The women also serve as emissaries educating the public about Lake Cares and about the region’s growing food insecurity crisis that feeds the pantry's fiscal need. One in six Central Floridians battle hunger and "food insecurity." The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines that as the “lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members and limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods.” And hunger doesn’t discriminate. Lake Cares struggles to keep pace with the swelling number of seniors, middle-class families, and increasingly immigrants from ravaged areas such as Puerto Rico and Venezuela, who need what Lake Cares provides to make it each month. In 2018, Lake Cares served 48,904 individuals, 11,650 families, and distributed more than 733,000 pounds of food. Those figures eclipsed the pantry’s 2017 totals of 36,201 individuals, 10,695 families, and 600,000 pounds of food distributed. Lake Cares' main distribution hub and offices are located in Mount Dora. It operates four satellite locations: Martin Luther King Center in Mount Dora; Bates Neighborhood Resource Center in Eustis; Faith Christian Fellowship; and the Paisley Community Center. Again, the Diamond Endowment Raffle emulates the life-changing saga of 13 women who took turns sporting a necklace named “Jewelia” after cooking legend Julia Child famously chronicled in the 2008 Cheryl Jarvis book. Second prize is $5,000. Third prize is $2,500.

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