Brunch on the Bay, one of the most popular social events of the season, made a big splash on its return to the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus on Sunday. The campus’ signature fundraising event for scholarships set a record for dollars raised.
While the total is still being finalized, it is expected to surpass $500,000, which exceeds the amount raised in 2019 when the annual event was last held due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This event is all about community and coming together with USF to support this community,” said Marrie Neumer, associate vice president of advancement at the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus. “What this shows is that this region cares about higher education and supporting local students, and that is evident from the tremendous level of support we saw at Brunch this year.”
Set on the campus’ scenic grounds, the two-hour gala hosted about 600 guests who were free to mingle and enjoy an array of 20 food stations staffed by the finest local restaurants and caterers in the region.
USF Spirit Squad cheerleaders were on hand to greet guests as they entered through the FCCI rotunda, and the USF Jazz band provided entertainment under the main tent. Also attending were USF student Ambassadors, USF mascot Rocky and numerous state and local dignitaries. Elizabeth Moore served as Brunch chairperson.
“This is such a wonderful event because it really demonstrates the connection this campus has to the Sarasota-Manatee region,” USF Sarasota-Manatee campus Regional Chancellor Karen A. Holbrook said. “Brunch on the Bay is about supporting students – the community’s students – and I think it is so inspiring to come together to provide support to these students so they can contribute and become our future leaders. In most cases, our students come from the community, and most will remain local to provide continued support to this area once they graduate.”
Moore agreed, telling attendees, “The reason I support USF is quite simple: Higher education changes lives. It changes the direction of individuals, families, entire communities and nations. It opens up hearts and minds and, on a grand scale, prepares us to tackle global challenges. All of these transformations and aspirations are happening right here at USF, on this campus and in our community.
“We all know the adage ‘Knowledge is power,’ and empowering our students, many of whom are first generation students, packs even more power. Again, that is happening time and again right here on this campus thanks to your generous support.”
Celebrating its 27th year, Brunch on the Bay showcases USF’s role in providing a high-quality, affordable education to students who become valued members of the workforce and vibrant contributors to the Sarasota-Manatee area. Since the first Brunch in 1994, the event has hosted more than 23,000 attendees whose contributions have provided for more than 2,000 student scholarships.
Also attending the event were USF interim President Rhea Law, President emerita Judy Genshaft, Foundation Board Chairman Jose Valiente, Foundation CEO Jay Stroman, numerous state and local officials, and members of the USF Sarasota-Manatee Campus Board, including Chairman Rick Piccolo.
“Brunch on the Bay says so much about the special relationship between the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus and the surrounding community,” President Law shared with attendees. “This event truly underscores the fact that USF is YOUR university.”
USF Federal Credit Union served as the event’s title sponsor.
“We are so honored to sponsor this event and bring this to the Sarasota-Manatee region,” Richard Skaggs, president of USF Federal Credit Union, said. “We have been providing student scholarships for years, so this event fits perfectly with our mission.”
Among those who have been helped by a Brunch scholarship was Jennifer Eubanks, who told attendees a moving story about her journey to USF. Eubanks enrolled at the Sarasota-Manatee campus after having already launched a successful career in retail management.
Despite the heavy demands of career, family and a devastating accident that led to multiple surgeries, Eubanks managed to graduate summa cum laude with a major in English and a minor in business this past spring. She hopes to continue her studies at USF.
“Throughout the challenges I have faced these past four years, the Brunch of the Bay scholarships have allowed me the freedom to focus on my studies. I would not be here today had it not been for the kindness of these benefactors and I am honored to be here today to express my heartfelt gratitude,” said Eubanks, who left the dais to a standing ovation.
Over the years, there have been many such moving tributes at Brunch, with many speakers also citing the event’s generous contributors and life-changing scholarships.
However, the annual fundraiser wouldn’t be complete without a healthy dose of fun and camaraderie as well, and Brunch attendees were welcome to sample an exquisite array of cuisine prepared by 20 restaurants and caterers who set up tables around the campus courtyard. Among the favorites: lobster tail, eggs Benedict, beef filet, crepes, bananas Foster and a host of other elegant dishes. Upon entering, the guests were treated to mimosas.
But for many, the most appealing feature of Brunch is its ability to reunite friends and acquaintances in a fun, congenial atmosphere while also helping students as they pursue their dreams of a college education, which really defines the event’s spirit.
“What I like most about Brunch on the Bay is that we’re supporting students from our community, but we’re also coming together to connect and share this time of fellowship, especially after we’ve been kept apart for much of the past two years,” said Campus Board member and alumna Dr. Anila Jain, who was among the first organizers of Brunch on the Bay and will serve as co-chairperson of next year’s Brunch, along with her mother, Dr. Mona Jain.
“There is really something special about Brunch,” she said. “I’ve been to many events around the community, but there’s nothing like Brunch on the Bay. It holds a special place in my heart, and I look forward to it every year.”