LAKELAND | On May 4th, Catholic Charities of Central Florida (CCCF) held its annual Kentucky Derby Day Party to raise much needed funds that support Polk County Ministries. The event took place at Rocking H. Ranch in Lakeland, and featured themed appetizers, a buffet dinner with traditional Derby fare, mint juleps, racing games, as well as a hat contest.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd made a special appearance and greeted guests, and Tampa TV personalities Ken Suarez of FOX 13 News and Melissa Marino of News Channel 8 ‘On Your Side’ served as co-emcees. There was the first ever Dapper Dan quartet performance throughout this year’s event that sang “My Old Kentucky Home” during the live race.

Renee Baker, events coordinator for CCCF, worked with more than 20 volunteers to make the event a success. This year, nearly 200 attendees participated. There were 80 silent auction items that helped raise more than $18,000. The funds will be used to support various ministries in Polk County including the new Agape Mission Markets that help feed struggling families, the Family Stability Program, Lakeland Activity Center for Seniors and more. “We recognize how much we are needed [in Polk County], and with the assistance of our sponsors and volunteers, we will continue to grow our programs,” said Baker.

Mike McGee, chairman of the event board for Derby Day and a longtime supporter of the fundraiser, says it is a great way to support Catholic Charities while enjoying the national Derby Day race. “It’s a delightful event to attend, and my wife and I enjoy going every year,” he said.

This year there was also a trivia game for guests. After a presentation by Gary Tester, executive director of CCCF, explaining the Polk County ministries and how they are growing to meet the needs of the community, guests spent time exploring displays about the programs, and then answered questions for a chance to win a bottle of wine. Despite his longtime involvement, McGee admits he learned something new. “It was a great addition to the event,” he said.

Catholic Charities has expanded various programs in Polk County over the past few years, including increased access to Immigration Legal Services and Behavioral Health Services, and additional mobile senior center sites.

By Carly Matthews, Florida Catholic Correspondent – May 6, 2019