The reveal happened on Monday, November 20, as over 30 people gathered in front of the Gulfport Casino at 4 p.m. for the official check presentation.
This year’s recipient was the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) for Gulfport Montessouri Elementary School.
“It’s incredible what can happen when a community comes together,” said Jess Hathaway, school principal. “I could not be more impressed or more happy to be a part of Gulfport. In a school district that serves more than 100,000 students in over 100 schools, this doesn’t happen throughout the district. It’s absolutely incredible.”
In coordinating fundraising efforts for new playground equipment with the Pinellas County School Board, superintendent and local PTA groups, Hathaway said, “Honestly, they couldn’t believe what we were able to do in such a short amount of time because the community got behind the cause.”
Groundbreaking on the new playground will now happen in the next one to two months, said Hathaway. “We’re going to invite everyone over so bring your cameras and smiles. The kids and teachers are so excited.”
The school’s local PTA organization “ran with the vision,” said Hathaway. And, “Pia Goff was instrumental” when she proposed the idea of the Chefs Table charity making the school its beneficiary this year. Goff is one of the chefs and co-owner of Pia’s Trattoria on Beach Boulevard. She leads the effort in Gulfport to bring restaurant owners together for the annual charity event.
This year, the outdoor fine-dining event increased its seating capacity by 50 percent and spanned the length of two city blocks down the center of Beach Boulevard on Monday, November 7. Ten local restaurants along with a group of sponsors participated and sold 360 seats. After food expenses are covered, the proceeds are donated, said Margarete Tober, president of Gulfport Neighbors, a local non-profit that provides organizational assistance for the event.
Individuals also made donations, she said.
For the 2017 school year, mandatory recess on a daily basis was established, said Barbara Price, president of the school’s PTA. The school also had an increase of 100 students to bring the total to a little over 700.
“Our existing playground is bulging and now, this will afford the kids a new place to have their time to play,” said Price.
Joanne Lentino, a school board member and former first grade teacher for about 10 years at Gulfport Elementary described the donation as “terrific.”
She said, “It’s critical for children to have recess to engage in fun activities to learn how to get along with others and just be happy that they’re children. I never denied my first graders recess. No one had to tell me to have recess because I saw how important it was for my little wigglers.”
The new playground equipment will be separate from the items used for physical education, she said.
“As a proud Pinellas resident and someone who loves Gulfport, I couldn’t be more pleased that the community came together for such a good cause,” said Pinellas County Commissioner Charlie Justice.
“Every restaurant owner and chef appreciates this because it brings us all together as a team once a year,” said Goff. “It’s a time for good spirits.”