In the community for the community – that is the mantra for the annual Sportsman’s Banquet sponsored by the Lions Club.
The sixth annual edition of the events rolls in Thursday, Feb. 21, with plenty of good food, a heaping helping of fun, prizes and, for one lucky, a bucketful of cash to take home.
But the real fun comes when the Lions Club gets to spend the proceeds, 100 percent of which is poured back into the community through a number of outlets.
“The Sportsman’s Banquet gives us the opportunity to meet our community service needs,” said Lions Club member Willie Ramsey. “We can also do something the community enjoys; most everybody who loves here loves the outdoors. We purchase most all that we need, including raffle items, in our service area.
“And then on top of that, some lucky people walk away with items that allow them to further enjoy the outdoors.”
The Sportsman’s Banquet, to be held at the Centennial Building in Port St. Joe with social hour a appetizers at 5 p.m. and dinner beginning at 6:30 p.m. ET, has allowed the Lions Club of Port St. Joe to broaden its community outreach.
Every year for the past several years the club, in partnership with the Eye Center, provides eye exams for local fourth-graders. In cases of real need, the club will also assist with the purchase of glasses.
The club has recently added hearing screenings to the eye exams.
In addition, the club has an endowed scholarship for deserving high school seniors, contributes to Christmas for Kids and Elders and the Gulf County Sheriff Office’s Christmas Wishes program.
“One thing we do each year is each member brings a gift to our Christmas party,” Ramsey said. “Those go to the Christmas programs we support.”
Sacred Heart Hospital on the Gulf was the recipient of a 10-year, $50,000 donation from the club that Lions Club members paid off several years early.
Further, through the years the club has donated to the American Cancer Society, the Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, Gulf Education Foundation, Supporters of St. Vincent Island National Wildlife Refuge, the St. Joseph Bay Humane Society, Gulf Coast State College’s Gulf/Franklin Campus, the Wewahitchka Ministerial Association and many more organizations.
The last Sportsman’s Banquet raised more than $15,000.
“We contribute to Odyssey of the Mind at the schools and that is an investment in our children who will become our community,” Ramsey said. “We look at non-profit organizations and where there is a need that is out of the ordinary and we try to help.”
An excellent example would be last year’s murder of Everett Gant in what authorities labeled a hate crime. The day after the shooting, the Lions Club established and seeded a bank account to help the Gant family defray medical costs.
“There you are talking about businessmen who saw that as a black eye on the community,” Ramsey said. “They knew that is not our community and they wanted to show that – this is not what our community is about.”
The Sportsman’s Banquet originated from what was an annual event to support Ducks Unlimited. But what Lions Club members envisioned was an event that would bring money directly into the community, not only in the costs of putting the night on, but also in handling proceeds from the banquet.
“We can bring money into our community and continue the Lions Club mission to the community,” Ramsey said.
After enjoying Chef Charlie Norton's "famous, no-man-left-hungry" ribeye steaks, joined on dinner plates by salad, potato and rolls and Sister's Restaurant’s "almost equally famous" banana pudding, the raffles and auction ratchet up the excitement.
Over $20,000 worth of contributions and prizes will be distributed to the guests through live auctions and raffles. One winner could win up to $8,000, the amount linked to the number of tickets sold.
The items include at least 25 shotguns, hunting rifles and pistols, along with numerous other outdoor products. There will also be items available for women and children.
Tickets for the event are $50 in advance and $60 at the door.
They can be purchased at Hannon Insurance and Ramsey's Printing and Office Products in Port St. Joe and from any Lions Club member. Additional information or ticket purchases can be made by calling 227-1133, 227-7767 or 527-1338.
“This is a lot of fun and beneficial to the community,” Ramsey said. “Every dime is spent here and this is about helping in the community and that is what the Lions Club is about.”