The wine flowed, the auction pallets rose and fell, and the winning bids kept coming:
- $32,500 to see pop superstar Adele perform in Las Vegas.
- $50,000 for a trip to the famous Blue Lagoon saltwater spa in Iceland.
- $75,000 for a private island getaway off the coast of Belize.
By late afternoon, the Southwest Florida Wine & Food Festival had raised $2 million in Saturday’s charity auction. The money goes to the state-of-the-art Golisano Children’s Hospital in Fort Myers.
Host Kellie Burns couldn’t believe it as the totals came in at the Suncoast Credit Union Arena in south Fort Myers.
“It was an amazing day,” the NBC2 news anchor said from a stage packed with wine party administrators, minutes before the total was announced. “Oh my God, what an afternoon! Thank you to all of you !”
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The total had started at $1,954,000, announced as sparks flew from the stage pyrotechnics and Pitbull’s song “I Feel Good” blared from the speakers. But then local philanthropists Tim and Sandy Youngquist stepped in and donated another $46,000.
“Two million!” Burns said excitedly from the stage. “We are at 2 million dollars! … You did it!”
After the auction, Ed Bell — president of the auction organizers, the nonprofit SWFL Children’s Charities, Inc. — said they were thrilled to reach that number. It’s been a while since they released $2 million. Last year’s virtual auction brought in $1.1 million.
“We’re super excited to hit $2 million,” Bell said. “We haven’t reached that number in six years, but we reached it tonight.”
This money doesn’t even include what was raised during the festival’s online auction. The totals will likely be announced on Sunday, said the nonprofit’s executive director, Heidi Davis.
The 2.5-hour auction was held inside the Fort Myers South Arena on the campus of Florida SouthWestern State College. Two days prior, organizers had decided to move the event from the college lawn due to forecast bad weather.
The day began with a large tasting in a separate area on the ground floor of the arena. Attendees sipped wine and nibbled on high-end appetizers as an acrobat balanced on a hoop suspended from the ceiling and green-covered “tree people” walking on stilts strolled through the crowd.
Then everyone walked past a curtain to the auction room, where auctioneer Scott Robertson kept urging the crowd to bid higher and higher.
“You might as well,” he said at one point during the auction, a huge smile on his face. “It’s for the kids!”
That’s why most of the guests came, after all.
Bob and Jen Lane from Naples were attending the auction for the first time, but it was not the first time they had helped a children’s charity. As a McDonald’s franchise owner, Bob Lane said he does this often.
“We think it’s for a good cause,” he said of Saturday’s auction. “When you say ‘children’s charities’, I’m kind of into it.”
For Jillian and Brad Dohack of Fort Myers, the auction was more personal: Six years ago, their triplets were born two months premature and spent a month in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at the Golisano children’s hospital.
“They wouldn’t have survived if Golisano hadn’t taken care of them,” said Brad Dohack of Fort Myers. “We are therefore supporting a cause that is close to our hearts.”
His wife supported him.
“The care we received was amazing,” said Jillian Dohack. “It’s a way to give back to that.”
And participants did just that, giving back by bidding again and again during the live auction. They hooted, clapped and drank wine as the bids went higher and higher: $10,000, $15,000, $20,000…
SWFL Wine and Food Festival:Images and sounds of the live auction
Along with lots from Adele, Iceland and Belize that brought in a combined $157,500, some of the night’s other biggest deals included:
- $57,500 for a “Napa Valley Experience” that includes 12 bottles of wine and a private dinner and wine pairing at Lerner Project Estate wine vineyards;
- $20,000 for a trip to Vegas with tickets to a Raiders football game and 10 laps in exotic race cars around the Las Vegas Speedway;
- $15,000 for an “Ultimate Girls’ Weekend” that includes four club seats at a John Mayer concert in Sunrise, Florida, plus a gourmet buffet dinner and luxury accommodations at the AC Marriott;
- And $27,500 for a trip to see country stars Willie Nelson and George Strait in Austin, Texas.
The auction followed an evening of chef-winemaker dinners Friday at private homes in Southwest Florida, pairing renowned chefs with world-class winemakers for a one-of-a-kind dining experience.
The $2 million raised on Saturday will be in addition to the $25 million the annual event has already raised over the past 14 years.
Hundreds of thousands of local children have benefited from the state-of-the-art pediatric facilities at Golisano Children’s Hospital. And much of the hospital’s funding comes from the annual festival and auction.
Burns started Saturday’s auction by toasting all the charity has done over the years.
“A toast to the $25 million raised since 2009 – $25 million!” Burns said from the stage. “What a tremendous contribution to families. …
“Here’s to saving children’s lives and changing the Southwest Florida community and bringing world-class health care to our community. Sip-sip! Now let’s get the party started!”
This year’s auction will benefit the new SWFL Children’s Charities Eye Center at Golisano Children’s Hospital. It is the largest pediatric ophthalmology practice between Tampa and Miami.
Funds will also go to the new pediatric neurosurgery initiative at Golisano, as well as nursing programs at Florida SouthWestern.
Learn more about the festival and SWFL Children’s Charities Inc. at swflwinefest.org.
Connect with this reporter: Charles Runnells is an arts and entertainment reporter for The News-Press and the Naples Daily News. Email him at [email protected] or connect on Facebook (facebook.com/charles.runnells.7), Twitter (@charlesrunnells) and Instagram (@crunnells1).