FOUR CORNERS – There are a lot of things the Four Corners area is known for, including close proximity to the theme parks and the gift shops, hotels and restaurants that line U.S. 192 and U.S. 27.
Unfortunately, said Michael Eckersley, the area is also known for some things that no one should be proud of, including families struggling in this rough economy, and unable to get into a house or apartment.
“They live in a car or a motel,” Eckersley said. “It’s tragic, really, in this modern day and age that we find so many with so little.”
Eckerlsey is a business owner in Four Corners, who operates Sunsplash Vacation Homes in Davenport, a firm that manages short term vacation homes. He’s also a member of a civic group, the Four Corners Kiwanis Club, that has been on a mission all year long: to ensure that students who don’t have enough food to eat at home can get the meals they need in school.
“We are giving out over 100 bags a week,” Ecklersley said. “That means 100 kids a week are taking food home with them on a Friday night. The Kiwanis are one of the main contributors.”
The Kiwanis International is a coeducational service club founded in 1915, headquartered in Indianapolis, and which has a membership of 240,000 men and women in 7,700 clubs across 80 nations. Not surprisingly, the club is often made up of retirees who want to volunteer their time to help others; it’s been estimated that the average age of a Kiwanis member is 57.
The Four Corners Kiwanis Club has been in existence for about eight years, but as Ecklersley noted, this is not a group that meets to chat and socialize. They work hard, he said, to address real needs in the community – including hunger.
A year ago, the Kiwanis decided to support the Green Bag Project. Founded in ChampionsGate a few years ago, Green Bag collects food that is distributed to needy families, and has adopted local schools as well, including Westside K-8 Elementary in Four Corners and Loughman Oaks Elementary. The Kiwanis have been helping Green Bag collect food to give to students who would not otherwise have anything to eat when they go home from school at the end of the day.
“We just put $3,000 worth of food in Loughman Oaks to get them through Christmas time,” he said.
Ecklersley is also a member of the Central Florida Vacation Rental Managers Association, which also adopted Green Bag as its charity this year. On Nov. 16, the trade group is holding a golf social at Falcon’s Fire Golf Club, with an 8 a.m. shotgun start. The cost to enter is $280 per team or $70 per individual, and the money raised from this event goes to Green Bag Project’s ongoing efforts.
“The golf tournament here will be going to that project as well,” Ecklersley said.
The problem of families living in local motels along U.S. 192 is a serious one, said Hector Lizasuain, Osceola County’s West 192 redevelopment coordinator.
“There’s not a lot of workforce housing in the area,” Lizasuain said. “We all know the problem of families living in our hotels. Now we’re approaching 2,000 children living in our hotels and registered in our schools.”
In many cases, Lizasuain said, these families simply can’t come up with enough money to provide the first month’s rent and security deposit on an apartment, so they’re stuck living in cramped motel rooms, many of them on U.S. 192 in Four Corners. In some instances, they also work there, he added.
Ecklersley said the Four Corners Kiwanis meet every Wednesday at the Providence Golf Resort in Davenport, except for the third week of the month, “When we all volunteer at Give Kids the World,” the chartable organization in Kissimmee that grants wishes to terminally ill children.
“We have 17 members, and we’re looking for new members,” Eckersley said, adding that his wife Rita is coordinating their drive to recruit new members, and anyone interested in joining can email her at Rita@sunsplash.com.
“We do more volunteering than fund-raising because we find it’s far more rewarding to do it that way,” he said. “We’d like to get reading volunteers and math volunteers for the schools, too.”
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