Pastor Charles Silano had no idea the Creekside Music and Arts Festival would turn out to be one of the biggest-ever fund-raisers for Grace Community Food Pantry, which he runs. Not long after the two-day festival at Princess Place Preserve was over this past weekend, Flagler Broadcasting general Manager David Ayres, who’d produced the event, called Silano and told him the goal was met–and exceeded.
“Oh wow. Fantastic,” Silano said this morning, shortly after he learned of the donation. “It couldn’t come at a better time because the holiday season is coming up, and you know we do a lot of things during the holiday season, we’re doing the Team Feed Flagler event, which is a different distribution.” Grace Community just spent $38,350 buying almost 1,100 cash cards worth $35 each to distribute to some 1,000 families ahead of Thanksgiving, now that there no longer is a distribution of actual turkeys and fixings. The cash card is restricted to buying that sort of supplies from Winn Dixie. The donation from Princess Place will help underwrite much of that, and to buy more food.
“I told Charles, my goal was to raise $20,000,” Ayres said this morning. The event raised $22,500 for Grace Community. It is the second-largest fund-raiser after Verdego, the large nursery on U.S. 1, raised $32,000 in five days in 2020, by diverting every dime and dollar in revenue to the food pantry. For Silano, every 18 cents buys a pound of food, so every dollar can be leveraged into the equivalent of 125,000 pounds of food.
“That’s why we asked people don’t bring canned goods, because you can do more with the purchase that way,” Ayres said. Put another way, “if they go and spend $1 on an item, then I could buy that same item for probably 18 cents,” Silano said, “so its more than five times the amount.”
The food pantry continues to play a central role in staving off food insecurity for thousands of families. At the height of the covid epidemic last year, the pantry was helping to sustain 6,500 families a month. The number fell to about 4,000 for a while, but is now back up to 5,200 families per month, most visibly through the Saturday distributions conducted out of the bus depot at Education Way, off of U.S. 1. This past week Grace served 1,350 families. Inflation and diminishing protein supplies haven’t helped: the community pantry used to get eight to 10 pallets of food per week, the equivalent of 1,200 to 1,500 pounds per pallet. “That’s a lot of frozen protein, and we had enough to distribute about eight pounds to 10 pounds of frozen protein per family,” Silano said. That’s down to three to six pounds per week per family, ” just to make sure everybody gets some.”
Flagler Broadcasting did not run the event entirely as a charity: it had to meet its bills and expectations, too. The company hasn’t yet been invoiced by the Sheriff’s Office and other organizations that helped make the event a success–including county government and a Jacksonville company that organized the parking–so the event’s bottom line isn’t yet clear. Nor had full attendance been tallied up yet. “I don’t know, the dust hasn’t settled on it,” Ayers said. “All I know is if you do things right, it always comes back to you, so that was my main concern.”
It was the first time back for Creekside since 2019, when it had been the showcase event for the Flagler County Chamber of Commerce, which used it to raise money for its own operations. The chamber has since closed and Covid intervened. As it closed chamber officials urged Flagler Broadcasting to take over the event–not an unattractive proposition, given its immense potential and Ayres’s experience with special events. If anything, it seemed like a natural fit.
“We did our best to change it up, make it better, different entertainment,” Ayres said. “The layout was totally different than it had been in years past, and all the feedback we got from people and the vendors was: they loved it. So that’s more than you can ask for.” Very few people pushed back on the $10 entrance fee, which was double the previous fee when the now-defunct Chamber of Commerce ran the event.
“Everybody was in a good mood coming in,” Ayres, who spent quite a bit of time greeting people coming in, said. “The value I mean, you figure kids were free, parking was free. Some people said it’s $12 for a box of popcorn at the movie theater. So to have live entertainment, the frisbee dog shows, all this stuff was free for the kids once they got in there. We wanted it to be a real affordable thing, we really wanted families and kids to come, so the pony rides were free, the petting zoo was free, the bounce houses were free. Once they got in there, food and drinks was all they had to buy if they wanted to.”
Ayres commended especially county government’s public works department whose staffers “worked their butts off making this Princess Place look so beautiful the way it was. All the grass was cut, they kept grading the roads, they had the water truck to keep all the dust down. To have government workers take such pride in what is their area of concern, I’ve never seen anything like it. It was just so impressive, they were so happy and interacting with people.” He said the event was marketed regionally to several counties beyond Flagler–Gainesville, Ocala, Jacksonville, Port Orange, bringing a lot of visitors who’d not heard of Princess Place, so it could be showcased to them.
Covid was not a factor. Many people happy that it was an outdoor event, many said it was their first major outing since the pandemic, and “those rocking chairs were rocking all day long,” Ayres said of the famed rocking chairs on the porch of one of the more historic buildings at the preserve.
“Next year we do it again, I think it’s the perfect time of year because Charles said that this is when they really need it the most,” Ayres said. “So everybody’s happy with it. We’ll make him our primary charity again next year.” The only difference might be the hours: Ayres thought opening the gates at 8 could attract people who like early-morning coolness, but not too many people turned up that early. In previous years, the gates opened closer to 10 a.m.
Next up on Flagler Broadcasting’s event schedule: The Nov. 20 Fall Festival and Chili Firehouse Challenge at the Agriculture Museum in north Palm Coast. The event, focused on firefighters and first responders, will include a chili cookoff, and will benefit the youth programs at the museum.