By Samantha Husted
The people of the Marco Patriots Facebook group are perhaps best known for their generosity, philanthropy and dedication to volunteerism. In the weeks following Hurricane Irma they’ve worked tirelessly to help the people of Southwest Florida recover from the devastating category three storm. But on Sunday afternoon the Patriots proved that beyond charitable endeavors they also know how to throw a mean party.
Over 1,000 people gathered at CJ’s on the Bay in the Esplanade for the Marco Strong “celebration of locals helping locals” fundraising event. There was food, drinks, and live music provided by a medley of local artist including JRobert Houghtaling, Jeff Hilt, Raiford Starke, Ryan Darling, and Marie Nofsinger.
After weeks of hard work in the unrelenting Florida heat, the people of Marco Island and surrounding areas were ready for a good time.
“Marco needed something to let their hair down after the storm,” co-organizer Stephen Barker said. Stephen and his wife Debbie own and operate the Marco Review, a local magazine that has worked closely with the Patriots.
Stephen estimates that over the course of the four-hour party the group was able to raise money to the tune of $48,000. The funds were acquired through a combination of t-shirt sales (provided by Sam Laria of Sunsations on Marco Island), raffle tickets, food and drinks sales, and a live auction—which alone raised a large portion of the total.
Yacht owner and professional fast-talking auctioneer, Mike Jones auctioned a trip on his 80ft yacht “Kismet” for $10,000 to couple from Ohio. Other auction items included a three-night stay at the JW Marriott on Marco Island, a three-night weekend stay at the Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel, and a plethora of gift cards for local businesses and restaurants on the island.
In terms of allocating the funds, Barker says the money will stay in the Southwest Florida area.
“We want to make sure the monies are going locally. A lot of the donors expressed a desire to see it helping people in Goodland and Everglades City and Chokoloskee and Copeland,” Barker said.
Prior to the party Barker, in conjunction with the Marco Patriots, set up a GoFundMe account. Their original goal was to raise $25,000. As of this writing they’ve received nearly $80,000.
The people who made the Marco Strong fundraiser possible did so by selflessly donating their time and talents. The musicians, for instance, were all there as volunteers. And in honor of the occasion CJ’s on the Bay provided food and concocted two specialty mixed drinks, aptly named “Marco Strong” and “Eye of the Storm.” Fifty percent of proceeds from those drinks went towards the cause.
Though the party is over, Marco Patriots founders Captain Ron Hagerman, Matthew Melican and Erin Mia Milchman are still hard at work. Supplies are being delivered to their headquarters on a daily basis. It seems that the Marco Patriots will continue to work until all needs are met.
If you would like to donate to the Marco Patriots visit www.gofundme.com/886c9-marco-island-hurricane-irma-fund. If you would like more information on the Marco Patriots visit www.marcopatriots.com.