SWFL Wine & Food Fest raises $2 million at Fort Myers auction. 'It's for the kids!'
The wine flowed, the auction paddles went up and down, and the winning bids kept coming:
$32,500 to see pop superstar Adele perform in Las Vegas.
$50,000 for a trip to the world-famous Blue Lagoon saltwater spa in Iceland.
$75,000 for a getaway to a private island off the coast of Belize.
By the end of the afternoon, the Southwest Florida Wine & Food Festival had raised $2 million at Saturday’s charity auction. The money goes to Fort Myers' state-of-the-art Golisano Children's Hospital.
Host Kellie Burns couldn’t believe it as the totals came in at Suncoast Credit Union Arena in south Fort Myers.
“This was an amazing day,” the NBC2 news anchor said from a stage crowded with wine-fest trustees, minutes before the total was announced. “Oh my gosh, what an afternoon! Thank you to you all!”
The total had started at $1,954,000, announced as sparks shot into the air from stage pyrotechnics and the Pitbull song “I Feel Good” blasted on the speakers. But then local philanthropists Tim and Sandy Youngquist swooped in and donated another $46,000.
“Two million!” an excited Burns said from the stage. “We’re at $2 million! … You did it!”
After the auction, Ed Bell — president of the auction’s organizers, the nonprofit SWFL Children’s Charities, Inc. — said they were thrilled to reach that number. It’s been a while since they’ve cracked $2 million. Last year’s virtual auction brought in $1.1 million.
“We’re super-excited to reach $2 million,” Bell said. “We haven’t hit that number in six years, but we just hit it tonight.”
That money doesn’t even include what was raised in the festival’s online auction. Totals from that will likely be announced Sunday, said the nonprofit’s executive director, Heidi Davis.
The 2½ hour auction took place inside the south Fort Myers arena on the campus of Florida SouthWestern State College. Two days before, organizers had decided to move the event from the college's lawn due to expected bad weather.
The day started with a Grand Tasting in a sectioned-off area of the arena’s main floor. Attendees sipped wine and snacked on high-end appetizers as an acrobat balanced on a hoop suspended from the ceiling and “tree people” covered in greenery and walked on stilts wandered through the crowd.
Then everyone moved past a curtain to the auction floor, 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 grin on his face. “It’s for the kids!”
That’s why most of the guests came, after all.
Bob and Jen Lane of Naples were attending the auction for the first time, but it wasn’t their first time helping a kids charity. As a McDonald’s franchise owner, Bob Lane said he does that a lot.
“We figure it’s for a good cause,” he said about Saturday’s auction. “When you say ‘children’s charities,’ I’m sort of in.”
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 Golisano Children’s Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
“They would not have survived had Golisano not taken care of them,” said Brad Dohack of Fort Myers. “So we’re supporting a cause that’s important to us.”
His wife seconded that.
“The care we had was incredible,” Jillian Dohack said. “This is a way to give back to that.”
And attendees did just that, giving back by bidding again and again at the live auction. They hooted and clapped and sipped wine as the bid numbers kept getting higher and higher: $10,000, $15,000, $20,000…
SWFL Wine & Food Fest: Sights and sounds from live auction
In addition to the Adele, Iceland and Belize lots that netted a combined $157,500, some of the other biggest bids of the night included:
$57,500 for a “Napa Valley experience” that includes 12 bottles of wine and a private dinner and wine pairing at the Lerner Project Estate wine vineyards;
$20,000 for a Vegas trip with tickets to a Raiders football game and 10 laps driving exotic racecars 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, along with a gourmet dinner buffet and deluxe 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 a night of chef-vintner dinners Friday at private homes across Southwest Florida, pairing renowned chefs with world-famous winemakers for a one-of-a-kind dining experience.
The $2 million raised Saturday will be added to the $25 million the annual event has already raised over the last 14 years.
Hundreds of thousands of local children have benefited from Golisano Children's Hospital’s state-of-the-art pediatric facilities. And much of the hospital’s funding has come from the annual festival and auction.
Burns started Saturday’s auction by leading a toast to everything the charity has done over the years.
“A toast to $25 million raised since 2009 — $25 million!” Burns said from the stage. “What a tremendous contribution to the families. …
"Here’s to saving the lives of children and changing the community of Southwest Florida and bringing world-class healthcare 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 of Golisano Children’s Hospital. It's the largest pediatric ophthalmology office between Tampa and Miami.
Funds will also go toward 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@example.com or connect on Facebook (facebook.com/charles.runnells.7), Twitter (@charlesrunnells) and Instagram (@crunnells1).
This article originally appeared on Fort Myers News-Press: SWFL Wine & Food Fest auction: $2 million raised for Golisano hospital