February 8th, 2017

Local Tennis Volunteers Stock Gracie’s Soup Kitchen Shelves in Yulee, Fla.

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Left to right: event coordinator Michele Maharaj, Kraft Community Outreach Director Frances Blancett, and Jerry Gardner, Kraft board member

Fernandina Beach and surrounding Florida community tennis players and volunteers in Northeast Florida came together late last month to feed the needy via tennis.

The 11th Annual Tennis Players Food Pantry Restocking event included 110 local tennis enthusiasts playing and coming together for a good cause — to provide food for the shelves at Gracie’s Soup Kitchen in nearby Yulee, Fla., a rural community near the Georgia border.

Each week more than 200 volunteers work to feed the homeless and those in need at Gracie’s Soup Kitchen. The organization operates under the umbrella of the Coalition for the Homeless of Nassau County to shine a light on the increasing plight of the homeless and needy in Northeast Florida.

Left to right: Darrell Huen, Gracie’s Soup Kitchen volunteer, and Kevin Obrien, marketing director at Amelia National Tennis Club

“The entry fee for the event was one bag of non-perishable food items,” said Michelle Maharaj of Maharaj Tennis Services, which works with the City of Fernandina Beach as a contracted tennis provider. Maharaj and her husband Vishnu also support the Yulee Tennis Foundation, an official USTA Florida Community Tennis Association.

“At the conclusion of the event approximately 3,000 lbs. of groceries were donated to Gracie’s Soup Kitchen in Yulee,” she said.

Players participated in round robin tennis at three local tennis centers and resorts — Omni Amelia Island Plantation, Kraft Tennis Partners Courts, and at Amelia National Tennis Club. Now in its 11th year, the event has grown from a small support group to an annual regional community outreach effort to not only provide food but to also raise awareness.

“The first year it was held at Amelia National on three courts with 15 participants,” Maharaj said. “The event has grown exponentially and this year provided the largest number of participants and the largest amount of donated food. It is so nice to see the tennis players come out in support of an event like this.”

Gracie’s Soup Kitchen (which serves more than soup) is located in the old Yulee Middle School, which was replaced by a new middle school in 2004 when studies showed it would cost just as much to renovate the old school as to build a new one. The Kitchen serves approximately 90-100 families each Thanksgiving. The plight of the homeless and the needy in the area is highlighted by the Kitchen feeding more than seven times the individuals and families it did seven years ago. The Kitchen is one of more than 100 agencies, organizations and individuals under the Coalition for the Homeless of Nassau County umbrella that strive to reduce homelessness and provide services for those in need.

“As a group, local tennis players are all aware of our neighbors in need, and happy to contribute to the mission of the soup kitchen and local food pantries,” Maharaj says. “Maharaj Tennis Services prides itself on promoting fun, fitness, and fellowship with events such as this.”

For more information on USTA Community Tennis Associations go to www.usta.com/About-USTA/Community-Tennis-Associations, or for community tennis grant info in Florida go to www.ustafloridafoundation.com.

Left to right: Gracie’s Soup Kitchen volunteers Darrell Huen and Stan Kavan, tennis player Kim Richardson, and City of Fernandina Beach Tennis Director Vishnu Maharaj