Inspiring Okeechobee: Tonya Schumacher makes the Prairie a happier place to live

OKEECHOBEE — Bringing neighbors together is important to Tonya Schumacher. When she was growing up, her family always enjoyed spending time with the neighbors, and she said when she moved to the Prairie three years ago, that was the one thing she missed. She moved out there to enjoy the county lifestyle, but she didn’t know anyone in the area, so she decided to create a Facebook page to help everyone out there get to know each other.

Tonya Schumacher has brought a sense of fellowship to the neighborhood out on the Prairie. Special to the Lake Okeechobee News.

In 2017, on Memorial Day weekend, a few of the neighbors decided to have a “Get to Know Your Neighbors” BBQ. They had such a wonderful time, she said, that they decided to do it again for the Fourth of July. It was during that BBQ that they came up with the idea to hold a raffle of $100, and whatever was raised, would go towards children’s events and future neighborhood gatherings. Usually everyone brings a dish to share, but the money covers things like ice, soda, plates, tableware, etc. she explained.

They had a band. The kids swam, and everyone had a great time. They used those funds from the $100 raffle towards the first Halloween event for the children. It paid for decorations, food, and candy. “It’s not easy to take kids trick or treating because we are so spread out,” she said.

“We also started ‘Friends Giving’ that year,” she said. We gave a Thanksgiving meal to a family in need. In 2018, they picked things up a bit and added more gatherings. They raffled off $150 at New Years and 4th of July BBQs, and that money went to Easter for the children, Prairie clean up on Earth Day, Halloween, Friends Giving for 13 families and they had a toy drive before Christmas. The toys were given to Santa and Mrs. Claus, who made an appearance at the children’s Christmas party and gave each child a toy. The left over toys were donated to Martha’s House.

This year, they continued with the $150 raffle at the New Year, and so far have had an Easter event for the children. About 40 children attended and each child was able to tie dye his or her own shirt, hunt eggs and have a great time with other local children. They had another Prairie clean up day on Earth Day and gathered to collect trash throughout the five-by-five mile neighborhood.

“It is all about neighbors in a small community and giving back to one another. I enjoy setting the events up and everyone has a great time. Without the love, support and great side dishes from everyone, none of it would be possible. I look forward to setting up many more neighborhood gatherings and I want to thank everyone for their help to make it all possible,” said Tonya.

One of her neighbors, James Griffith said,” Tonya organizes the volunteers or others with a huge heart promoting events for the kids (and the kids in adults). They always turn out to be huge events and successful to their goals with volunteers and she identifies the perfect vacant property for the Halloween events for the kids of the community. This includes those giant blow up characters, candy, lots of food from the barbecue and games, etc. For Thanksgiving she identifies those in need and once identified she lets people know there’s (say) four families identified as in need. Volunteers then offer and donate food items including turkeys. She makes Thanksgiving happen for many families that wouldn’t otherwise have one, and weeks later there’s Christmas. For Christmas she again identifies a vacant property (gets landowner permission), and along with volunteers sets up Santa. Santa is another local volunteer (big guy) who dresses up (in the sweltering heat) and the kids flock to see Santa. They do this over a few weekends so the kids of the community can experience Santa as kids should. Then comes Easter. Again, she identifies a vacant property (I think she tries to keep it fresh) and sets up an Easter egg hunt for the kids along with lots of candies, barbecue foods, desserts, etc. making all the above so memorable for the kids and families of the community. Then if we include adult events like New Year and 4th of July, there she is in the middle cooking endlessly for days in advance and during — she’s tireless. She deserves to be recognized. She’s an amazing person with a huge heart and so are all the volunteers who join her to make these events so memorable.”

Another neighbor, Charles “Pops” Corso said, “ She does so much for the community. She uses her own money to pay for t-shirts for the kids and for the raffles. She is such a great person. She holds a great part of this community together. We get together every Friday night and people play music and sing. She and her husband usually cook hotdogs for everyone. If you ever need anything, she is there for you. She thinks nothing of baking 100 cupcakes for a party for the kids. I am very blessed to call her my friend.”

Mitch Teardo said, ”She helps bring people together. She’s the one you call if you need something done. She and her husband have helped a lot of people out here.”

Jennifer Bell said, “I am a resident of the Prairie and met Tonya last year. I got to spend some time with her helping to pass out Thanksgiving dinners to the less fortunate residents out on the Prairie, and she went above and beyond to provide the dinners, drinks and desserts that fit to their liking and needs. She is a very good asset to the community and would do anything for anyone.”

Jackie Allen said, “I consider her a true friend. Tonya is an inspiration to all of us. She is one of the finest people I have ever met. Whenever I need someone, she is always there. She and her husband are always doing something for this community to make it a better, happier place and they do it with a smile.”

Cathy Womble is a staff writer for the Lake Okeechobee News.

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