Paddles flew in the air, bids crept higher and higher. A private swim lesson and pool party with—wait for it—Olympian Michael Phelps was alone worth its weight in gold ($50,000 to be exact). And that wasn’t even the highest earning prize of the day: a four-person trip to the Country Music Awards in Nashville was purchased by two bidders for $90,000 apiece.
When it was all said and done, the 2019 Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest, held for the first time at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort and Spa in Bonita Springs, had raised $1.9 million for SWFL Children’s Charities, the nonprofit organization that stages the event and distributes the funds it raises throughout the five-county area.
Champagne glasses—and overflowing red and white stemware too—clinked throughout the day on Sunday, February 24. New this year as well was the concentrated one-day format with all the focus on the Grand Tasting & Live Auction (rather than having optional vintner dinners on Friday and an after-party Saturday). The afternoon began with canapés from Lee and Collier Counties’ top chefs and neverending pours of some of Napa’s and Sonoma’s greatest cellars, such as Paul Hobbs Winery, Williams Selyem and The Spire Collection.
As the auction swung into action, it was clear the event’s strong tradition of giving remained intact. (The 2018 festival’s final fundraising total was only marginally more at $2.34 million.) This year, the board of directors and festival co-chairs elected to have a guiding theme be “Making Waves: Building Healthy Minds,” so as to focus the charitable endeavors on a mental and behavioral health initiative, adding nine new beneficiaries in the process. In fact, the Fund-a-Cause, where every cent pledged would benefit those nine organizations, inspired guests to go on a giving spree collectively bringing in more than $515,500.
The deluge of cash is bound to make an ocean of difference in Lee County—where this event is its largest annual fundraiser—and beyond, reaching the youth in our area most in need of a boost.