For seven years now, Windermere Wine & Dine has grown exponentially — and this year, it sold out within five minutes.
Originally created as a fundraiser to benefit Windermere Elementary School’s Mustang Education Fund and other town committees and organizations, the event has become a staple in the town. It consistently sells out, and each year the proceeds multiply.
Windermere Wine & Dine raised $35,000 its first year, said event chair and founder C.T. Allen. With the event now in its seventh year, Allen said the Windermere Wine & Dine Saturday, Jan. 25, is expected to raise $250,000.
“We’ve become this entity that everyone wants to be a part of, which is great,” Allen said. “Our town has embraced it. I’m overwhelmed by the people who are coming out of the woodworks and saying, ‘If you need me, I’m here.’ This year we have the most sponsors we’ve ever had. … It’s a quality event but they’ve also seen what we do after the event, and to me, that’s the message.”
Allen added that while the event has been successful, it’s what happens the rest of the year that really matters — giving back.
With the explosive growth and level of success Windermere Wine & Dine enjoys, Allen and her event committee knew it was time to expand the beneficiaries beyond the town’s borders. Within the last two years, the committee established its “Wine & Dine Outreach Grants,” which come with a mission to help children and families throughout Central Florida.
“Over the last couple of years, we started to expand outside the town borders and we did $20,000 to the Title I Schools in the West Learning District (in 2019),” Allen said. “When we did that, we got a lot of great comments and that’s what created more people coming on with the silent auction. We also wrote the $50,000 grant to the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness last year.”
In total, the committee was able to distribute more than $200,000 in grants last year. This year, the two main organizations chosen as recipients of an outreach grant are Family Promise of Greater Orlando and Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida’s culinary training program.
According to its website, Family Promise helps families overcome the crisis of homelessness by meeting the emergency need for shelter and meals, providing access to permanent housing and providing case management services to help families get back on their feet. Windermere Wine & Dine will award $50,000 to Family Promise.
“We … like the organizations that have an end goal — it’s not just giving food to somebody, it’s getting them stabilized and (promoting) sustainability,” Allen said. “Family Promise is a phenomenal organization.”
The Second Harvest Culinary Training Program, according to its website, “provides qualified, at-risk and economically disadvantaged adults with the culinary and life-skills training needed to pursue a sustainable career in the food industry.”
The organization will receive $25,000 from the event.
However, the committee took it a step further: On the night of the event, eight restaurants will act as mentors to eight of the culinary program trainees. The trainees will gain invaluable experience while working the event under the tutelage of seasoned chefs.
“I thought, ‘This is so great,’” Allen said. “This is our inaugural year (for the mentorship) — I would love for it to have legs and keep doing it in the future. These trainees will arrive on site about 2:30 p.m., we will introduce them, and they will be mentored that night from the experts. You can’t beat that training, especially at an outside event like this.”
The community outreach doesn’t stop there, though. Windermere Wine & Dine also will benefit the Windermere Police Foundation and other local nonprofits and organizations. Currently in the works is a $10,000 sensory room for ESE students at Gotha Middle School. And in December, the committee bought 18 $1,000 Amazon gift cards for schools in Orange County Public Schools’ West Learning District to help them stock their food pantries.
Allen added that the Windermere Active Youth Committee will be receiving $5,000 from the event committee to help launch its youth program. In exchange, the teenagers involved volunteered to string lanyards and wash about 1,200 wine glasses the night before the event.
“Everybody is bringing something to the plate,” Allen said of her committee and community members. “They’re not all just my ideas. Everybody comes and shares. The sensory room, that’s a game changer. It’s what we’ve created together. How (the event) has grown has been organic and we’ve gotten better and better every year, but we’ve gotten more thoughtful every year on how to spend the money.
“We’ve proved that we’re good stewards of the dollars and where we’re going to place them,” she said. “I have fun doing the event — it is joyful — but this definitely brings it home when we’re able to write checks like this. Everybody enjoys it.”