CASA Holds Very Special Bowl Game

Story and Photos By Betsy Judge

Regardless of which teams battle it out in Super Bowl LII, there is a group of caring, concerned area “sports fans” who are putting their money on team CASA to win a very special bowl game–the 2018 Soup-er Bowl; a drive to collect non-perishable food for domestic violence survivors in need.

Scott Leemon with Eagle Asset Management, a subsidiary of Raymond James, picks up boxes and posters at CASA to collect Soup-er Bowl donations in the eight buildings Raymond James owns in Carillon.

As the official domestic violence center for southern Pinellas County, CASA (Community Action Stops Abuse) is a vital safety net for people trapped in abusive relationships or dealing with the hardships, trauma and danger after leaving an abuser. Many people in these difficult situations rely on short-term assistance from CASA including nutritious meals for their family.

The intent is for individuals who are hosting a Super Bowl party to incorporate a food drive and encourage their guests to contribute. Not a football fan? Do a drive among family, friends and co-workers any time through Feb. 28.

“This is our third year,” said Mo Venouziou, senior communications manager for CASA. They started the annual drive about the time the NFL was making news for incidents of domestic violence. “Someone came up with the idea in December, and we thought, ‘Why not take this chance to change the conversation from bad things about football; let’s make it fun and make it sup- portive of domestic violence with people having food drives at their homes during Super Bowl parties.’”

It was also right after they opened their new 133-bed shelter. “Our food costs were just crazy because of that,” adds Venouziou. “We collected about three or four months of food that first year.”

Last year they collected about five months of food and Venouziou hopes to get at least seven months worth of food this year. “And if we can get the whole year covered that would be great.”

In addition to individual support, they have great success with local businesses and supporters like Scott Leemon, with Eagle Asset Management, a subsidiary of Raymond James. He stopped by CASA on Jan. 15 to pick up boxes for donations and posters.

“They have been involved since our first year and are a top supporter,” says Venouziou. They are putting boxes in the eight buildings they own.

Soup-er Bowl planning committee member Dr. Daniel Strauss talks to Kiki Russell who is picking up boxes to collect donations at Visit St. Pete/Clearwater. The dean at National University of Health Sciences in Pinellas Park, Strauss is getting his students into the action as well as the City of Pinellas Park.

Dr. Daniel Strauss is the next to arrive. He is the dean at National University of Health Sciences in Pinellas Park, a chiropractic institution. He is also chairman of the Pinellas Park Medical District, on the board at Vincent House, incoming president of the Pinellas Park Chamber of Commerce and is on this year’s Soup-er Bowl planning committee. He helps Leemon carry boxes to his truck.

“I saw Mo at several events and when I had the opportunity to get involved with the 2018 Soup-er Bowl food drive, I jumped all over it,” says Strauss. He notes that it dovetails nicely with a new university effort to implement CCL (co-curricular learning) which is designed to enhance students’ classroom learning experiences with activities outside the school.
“I’ve been involved with trying to get students out into the community to do volunteer work and they’ve done an amazing job.”

He says the City of Pinellas Park has been very supportive. “We have a number of city buildings that we will be putting boxes in and they invited me to speak at their last city council meeting so I talked about CASA and the food drive. It’s pretty amazing the support that we get from the city. It’s nice because even though CASA started here (St. Pete), we don’t want it to be restrictive. It includes the beaches, Pinellas Park, Clearwater; the more it branches out, the more we can help.”

Kiki Russell with Visit St. Pete/Clearwater stops by to pick up boxes and posters. The county’s tourism bureau splits their local staff into six teams that take turns coordinating monthly birthday socials and community outreach for the staff.
As a survivor of abuse, Russell appreciates the role of CASA in the community including: operating the area’s 24-hour crisis hotline and 133-bed emergency shelter, offering community support groups, providing courtroom advocacy, assisting the Child Protective Investigative teams, and conducting community and corporate education. They also educate youngsters through their Peacemakers Program which teaches anti-bullying and healthy relationship curriculum in local schools from pre-K to middle school.

Mark Trujillo from UF/IFAS Extension Family Nutrition Program (FNP) picks up supplies for his organization and Pinellas County. They teamed up last year and collected about a quarter of all the donations.

The University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and Pinellas County also got involved last year. Mark Trujillo representing the county and the Family Nutrition Program, stopped by to pick up supplies. “They were huge part of it last year, I think they collected maybe a quarter of the food,” adds Venouziou.

He attributes the success and growth of the effort to the contributions of planning team members like Strauss and Trujillo. Other committee members include: Cesar Apolo, H&R Block; Rena Bello, SPC Women on the Way; Brian Clark, CASA Foundation, Principal Financial Services, and Edible Tampa Bay; Clint Elbow, United Nations Association of the U.S., and CCS Medical; Michael Lewallen, United Way Suncoast; Mark Pappalardo, Catalina; Monique Serata, Kvantis; and Laura Ward, West Pharmaceutical Services. Donations can include all non-perishable food items like canned soups, veggies, fruits, meats and pastas, boxed cereals, juices, crackers, rice, condiments, cookies, snack bars, taco kits, and other new and unopened storable foodstuffs. They also welcome checks/cash/gift cards valid at grocery stores and warehouse clubs or donations online.

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