Two and a half million dollars changed hands Thursday night as the organizers of the Naples Winter Wine Festival donated this year's proceeds to eight Collier charities.
The charities' representatives received symbolic 4-by-2 foot checks for as much as $1.1 million at a ceremony at the Ritz-Carlton, Golf Resort-Tiburon.
The money was raised at the wine auction held in early February.
It was organized by the Naples Children and Education Foundation, a group of 24 prominent local families seeking to raise money for underprivileged children in Collier County.
They held their first Winter Wine Festival last year, taking in more than $1 million for their two initial charities, the Boys & Girls Club of Collier County and Youth Haven.
This year, the festival and auction made $3.5 million, of which $2.5 million went directly to Collier charities. The remaining $1 million was put into the Children and Education Foundation's endowment fund.
The festival is the largest single fund-raising event in Southwest Florida, and the secondlargest charity wine event in the world.
"I never expected the festival to be so successful two years in a row, so this is just phenomenal," said Anne Simon, the executive director of Youth Haven, after receiving a check for $1.1 million.
The other principal beneficiary, the Boys & Girls Club, also received $1.1 million.
This year's proceeds were so substantial that the Naples Children and Education Foundation decided to add six more beneficiaries, all Collier County children's charities.
After reviewing applications from about a dozen groups, the festival organizers awarded the remaining $300,000 to the Biasco Foundation for Children with Autism, the Immokalee Child Care Center, the Foster Care Council of Southwest Florida, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the Child Protection Team, and the Early Years Education Foundation.
About 200 people attended Thursday's check-awarding ceremony. Festival organizers and charity directors enjoyed hors d'oeuvres and--of course--fine wine as they chatted about putting the money to use.
"Right now we have one center on Davis (Boulevard) and serve 300 kids every day," Boys & Girls Club board member Arlene Nichols said. The Club provides a safe haven where kids can go after school to socialize and get help with homework.
"But there are about 15,000 children in Collier county who need our services, so we need to expand and build more centers," Nichols said. "With help like this, we will."
Simon said Youth Haven's portion of the money would be used for child abuse prevention efforts. The 30-year-old organization runs Collier's only 24-hour residential emergency shelter for abused or at-risk children.
"The average income for the families Youth Haven works with is $18,000 per year, so it's wonderful that people with this kind of wealth and influence are helping those with no wealth or influence," Simon said.
Although 25 percent of the festival's income came from the people on its board of directors, chairman Jeff Gargiulo said, "The real work is done by the folks receiving these checks."
This year's Winter Wine Festival featured three days of meals provided by more than 30 of the world's top chefs and vintners and was attended by wine aficionados from around the world.
The festival centered around the auction, which drew a crowd of 450 guests to bid on 70 packages.
The most expensive single bottle of wine sold was a rare Imperial (6-Liter bottle) of 1999 Colgin Herb Lamb Vineyard, which went for $70,000.