Former Gator raises funds for pediatric oncology clinic

“It starts with finding your passion…”

Johnny Townsend
Clay Townsend, Dr. Parker Gibbs (Chief Medical Officer), Jonny Townsend, Susan Townsend

Clay Townsend, C. Parker Gibbs Jr., M.D., UF Health Shands chief medical officer, Johnny Townsend, Susan Townsend

Johnny Townsend, the record-setting former Florida Gator and current Baltimore Ravens punter, has found that passion. Since college, Townsend has been building the Johnny Townsend Foundation, which raises funds to benefit the Pediatric Oncology Infusion Center & Specialties Clinic at UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital.

On Sunday, July 18, the Foundation held its largest fundraiser to date. Originally planned as The Winter Park Wine Cruise, Mother Nature had other plans. Rain meant that the cruise portion of the event had to be cancelled, but the crowd brought plenty of energy when the after-party and auction started early.

The auction featured various autographed items donated by players such as Kansas City Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill, as well as items from Johnny and his brother Tommy Townsend, Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker and former Florida Gators star and New York Giants wide receiver Kadarius Toney.

The inaugural event drew around 130 guests and raised more than $55,000 for the clinic.

In a recent interview with the Orlando Sentinel, Townsend shared his passion for contributing to the work at UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital.

“It all benefits children’s oncology at Shands, and that’s who I’ve been doing all of the fundraising events for. I work 100 percent with Shands. They were kind of my inspiration when I left college. I have a lot of ties to the community in Gainesville,” Townsend said. “It’s really my opportunity to use my platform as a Central Florida guy and professional athlete just to try to make an impact.”

One of the Foundation’s biggest supporters has been Lou Holtz, former Notre Dame head coach and ESPN personality. Holtz echoed Townsend’s praise of UF Health, where his wife, Beth Barcus Holtz, received treatment for more than 20 years in her battle with cancer before her passing a year ago. “If she were here, she would be the first to jump up and say, ‘Thank you,’ ” Holtz said.

The Townsend Foundation Winter Park Wine Cruise
The Johnny Townsend Foundation Winter Park Wine Cruise

This is not the first time the Johnny Townsend Foundation has stepped up to help. The Pediatric Oncology Infusion Clinic was recently renovated in 2018, which was made possible in part by efforts from Townsend’s fundraising. It was an early visit to the Clinic as a UF student-athlete that first sparked his desire to help, and he spoke about it recently in an interview with NFL Players Association.

“Instead of individual rooms, the kids were separated by just curtains while they did their infusions. They also didn’t have any entertainment systems for the kids to pass the time, and it wasn’t a comfortable setting for parents to spend time; there was just a chair or two. The renovation was a multi-million-dollar project, so our contributions were pretty miniscule, but I figure every little bit helps. I really just wanted to find a way to provide as much help as I can for these deserving children and their families,” Townsend said.

Townsend has already said he plans to build on the success of this year’s event and enlarging it for next year.

Event sponsors included Scenic Boat Tours, Jersey Mike’s Subs, and Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits, John Washburn, and The Tom and Pat Smith Family, in memory of Dr. Matthew Smith.

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