Bella Diamante & Maribella


The book ‘The Necklace’ sparks a diamond necklace fundraiser for Lake Cares Food Pantry’s 10th anniversary.

Soon after The Villages resident Carol Lynn Nelson’s name was drawn as the winner of a $21,500 diamond necklace, Bella Diamante, at a recent gala for Lake Cares Food Pantry’s 10th anniversary, the pantry’s executive director, Irene O’Malley, enticed the 400-plus crowd with news they were thrilled to hear. 

“We can’t just stop with one necklace, now can we?” she said.

The crowd at Lake Receptions in Mount Dora gushed as Irene unveiled on two large screens a photo of Maribella, the second and latest fundraiser necklace for Lake Cares designed by Gold in Art Jewelers. The necklace features 28 carats, blue topaz, teal, blue and white diamonds in white gold and listed with a minimum value of $21,500. It will be raffled off April 2, 2020.

 “And only when the necklace has been raffled will the actual value be revealed. We want this to be a mystery,” Irene says.

Tickets for the Maribella raffle are $50 each. Only 1,000 tickets will be sold. They can be purchased at the Lake Cares office in Mount Dora or through

Throughout the year, Holly Stratton Farley, Tina Morin, Erika Green, Kelsey Gonzalez, Edna Gonzalez, Theresa Elliott, Christina Williams Stewart, Donna Marini, Jodie McEwen, Linda and Jeanette Bokland, Cathy Hoechst, and Clara Schneider will be the “Maribella Ladies,” wearing the necklace to showcase and promote Lake Cares’ fundraiser. 


How it all began 

Cathy Hoechst, board chairwoman for Lake Cares Food Pantry, was inspired in her book club by reading “The Necklace: Thirteen Women and the Experiment That Transformed Their Lives,” based on a true story. Cathy was touched by one of the quotes: “We are not what we own. We are what we do, who we help, and the difference we make in the world.”

Cathy thought about the inspirational women in the book who collectively purchased a diamond necklace to wear and share with others.

“Do you think we could do something like this and use it as a raffle?” Cathy asked Irene.

“Well, yeah!” Irene replied.

Gold in Art Jewelers in Mount Dora was commissioned to design the first diamond necklace, christened Bella Diamante, an 18-inch, 14K necklace with a one-carat center diamond orbited by 26 diamonds and 3.51 total carat weight. It was appraised at $21,500.

Donna Brown, Leslie Campione, Diane Culpepper, Melissa “Mel” DeMarco, Karen English, Janet Gamache, Diane Grande, Dawn O’Rourke, Robin Skaggs, Mary Stanley, and Ann “Bunny” Waddell each took turns wearing Bella for one month from April 2018 through March 2019. They developed a strong friendship, just like the women in the book.

“I feel very privileged,” says Janet, while wearing Bella at the gala. “I feel very proud and I also feel a sense of protection and ownership over it because it’s such a magnificent piece and it represents so much.” 

‘The Necklace’ author 

Cheryl Jarvis, of St. Louis, author of “The Necklace,” flew to Florida for a meet-and-greet with the gala guests and to do the raffle drawing, which netted nearly $30,000 for the food pantry.

In addition to the winner, Mount Dora residents Vivian Rice won the $5,000 second-place prize and Holly Stratton Farley received $2,500 for third place.

Cheryl says she has never been drawn to diamonds, but her life changed when she met the Ventura, California, women behind her 2008 New York Times bestseller.

“The heart of the story to me was how they loaned it out to everybody, to those who couldn’t have afforded it,” Cheryl says. “The group loaned out the necklace to young brides on their wedding days and 90-year-old women on their birthdays. One of the women was a middle school teacher who loaned it to her principal, her fellow teachers, even two of her students.”

Before she met the women, Cheryl was skeptical about writing the book. She had received a call from the group’s agent saying “The Necklace” was a story that needed a writer. It had been a feature article in People magazine and optioned by Fox Searchlight Pictures.

“All I knew is that these women had gone collectively to buy a pricey diamond necklace,” she says. “I thought, ‘I don’t know if this can engage me for a year. What else is there to say?’ So, I decided to stay open to the possibility that there was more to the story.”

Once she met two of the women over a long lunch, she was hooked on writing the book. Cheryl spent two weeks with each woman in the book club, including joining a single woman on her date.


“They were my age, demographically,” she says of the women in their early 50s to 60s. “I saw how these 13 women lived their lives, and through them, I saw what was missing in my life.”

Cheryl realized the importance of being open to new ideas and projects.

“I really believe in saying ‘yes’ to life and to life’s opportunities,” Cheryl says, adding she felt a desire to give back as a volunteer. “After I wrote the book, I started doing it. I do a writing workshop for women who are incarcerated to write their stories, and that has been an amazing, life-changing experience for me.”

The California book club group is still together, Cheryl says, adding they’ve lost one member. The author is pleased “The Necklace” has provoked discussions in many book clubs. London’s Daily Mail commissioned a necklace and had 12 women report on their experiences in an ongoing feature in the newspaper.

“It’s been replicated all over the world. Everybody has their own spin to it,” Cheryl says. 

“Rachael Ray, the TV talk-show host, did a show with a New York book club. The women couldn’t agree on one necklace, so each woman picked a charm that was meaningful to her, and they did it that way,” Cheryl says, adding that one group of wealthy California women had the idea of buying a Bentley to take older patients to medical appointments.

“I don’t know if it materialized, but I thought it was a very cool idea,” she says.

“The Necklace” has been published in 19 countries and translated into 15 languages. 

History of Lake Cares

Pastor Paul Hoyer, Debra Paradis, and Jodie McEwen are credited as Lake Cares’ founders. The pastor encouraged the congregation at Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Lake Mary to make a difference, and the words touched Debra and Jodie. They decided to do a food drive, and after 75 bags were distributed, they noticed the demand for food didn’t end.

“They always talk that it takes a village to make a difference. It doesn’t really necessarily take a village, but just that one person that just wants to do something to make a difference, and that is what they did,” Irene says.

The founders opened Lake Cares on April 4, 2009, thanks to Jim Croson, who provided a Mount Dora building rent-free, and utility-free for the first year.

“Jim loved what we did so much that in in 2010, he donated the entire building to us, and that is when Lake Cares realized that we finally have a home,” Irene says. “We had some place that we could continue doing our mission, and it has made all the difference in the world.”

In 2018, Lake Cares served 48,904 individuals, 11,650 families, and distributed more than 733,000 pounds of food.

Lake Cares’ main distribution hub and offices are at 2001 W. Old Highway 441, Mount Dora, and there are four satellite locations: Martin Luther King Center in Mount Dora; Bates Neighborhood Resource Center in Eustis; Faith Christian Fellowship in Tavares; and the Paisley Community Center.

“We just keep on growing and we just keep on going into our community and doing more and more,” says Irene, grateful for the public support at Lake Cares’ 10th anniversary gala. “What pleased me the most is that this was truly a community celebration.” 

Lake Cares Facts

200+:Lake Cares has more than 200 volunteers.

224+:More than 224 families regularly count on Lake Cares Food Pantry.

One out of every six:One in six Central Floridians battle hunger and “food insecurity”—what the U.S. Department of Agriculture defines as the “lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members and limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods.”

About the Author

Originally from Anderson, Ind., Theresa worked for The Herald-Bulletin for many years. After experiencing a winter with 53 inches of snow, her late husband asked her to get a job in Florida, and they headed south. Well known in the area, Theresa worked with The Daily Sun and The Daily Commercial prior to joining Akers. “I finally have my dream job. I’ve wanted to work for a magazine since I was a teenager, and I’m very excited to be here,” Theresa says. “There is such positive energy at Akers that it’s infectious.” Theresa has three grown daughters—Julia lives in San Francisco, Emily is in Austin, Tex., and Maria is at the University of Central Florida.