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Riding for a Reason -

December 4, 2014
Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

For the 18th straight year, a group of beach friends gets together to offer a cross-county poker run for a wonderful cause, raising Christmas funds and toys for island children in need. What started as a small pack of scooters back in the late 1990s has turned into a serious, dedicated ride with hundreds of participants, and will once again hit the road Sunday, Dec. 7, as the Christmas Poker Run continues the tradition of "riding for a reason."

Originally organized by local philanthropists Michael DeCarlo, Paula Towell and Lena Neroni, Sunday's run will be extra special this year, taking place to honor the late Michael DeCarlo who passed away Sept. 1, in remembrance of all of the wonderful things he's done for our local community throughout his many years on the island.

The fun run will kick off at Junkanoo, 3040 Estero Blvd., with sign-up at 10 a.m. and the first bike out at 11. Stops will include the Tiki Bar at San Carlos Park, followed by the Smilin' Dog Saloon (Fort Myers), Ralph's Place (Cape Coral), Valerie's Lounge (Fort Myers Beach) and then back to Junkanoo for an after party full of more raffles, prizes, silent auctions, 50/50s, food, fun and more.

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The 18th annual Christmas Poker Run rides for a reason Sunday, Dec. 7. Sign up is
at Junkanoo at 10 a.m. Beach Bulletin File Photo

"This is all to benefit the Spirit of the Holidays Beach Kids Foundation. We are joining forces with the Beach Kids Foundation, run by Fran Meyers' new charitable foundation, teaming up to get more local children a Christmas," said Lena Neroni, lead coordinator of the run. "We also support the Lee County Sheriff's Youth Activities League. In order for our poker-runners to stop at their location, each of the stops on our run makes a donation to the league. All of our stops have done this for us several times over the years, and we're grateful for all of them."

Lena looks back on all of the memories and the fun that these yearly runs have provided.

"Our first poker run, back in 1996, was on scooters just 32 people on scooters. We didn't go far. We made it as far as The Bridge restaurant that was our farthest stop," she reminisced. "It's blossomed into such a wonderful event and we make sure to cover all of Lee County. We've gone from 32 scooters to over 200 motorcycles, trucks, cars, buses, you name it. If it's on wheels, you're more than welcome to run with us."

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So, whether you're on a bike, a trike, scooter, moped, cart, wagon or four-wheeled, six-wheeled, multi-axle contraption, you're welcome to ride with the group, who this year expects more than 300 to participate.

If you don't have a vehicle of your own, or would rather sit back and enjoy the ride, a fully air-conditioned, plush and comfortable motor coach has been reserved, running with everyone else on the road.

"We're going to have Jell-o shots and all types of other fun taking place on the bus during the run," Lena said. "And I?know Michael will be right there with us."

Each of the stops will be offering 50/50s, raffles, special food, drinks and lots of fun and games, whether it's an egg race or water balloon toss, to shake it up while chasing after the best poker hand you can get.

The cost to participate is $20 per motorcycle/car/vehicle, $10 for additional riders, $10 for additional poker hands and $30 to ride in the coach (also feel free to bring your own coolers on the bus). Commemorative T-shirts will be available that day, as well.

As this is a fund-raiser for the local children for Christmas, those attending are asked to pick an ornament from one of the four Giving Trees located on Fort Myers Beach either the day of the run or prior (one is set up at each of these locations, each with different childrens' names: the Fort Myers Beach Fire Department, Red Coconut's Community Center, Junkanoo on the Beach and First Baptist Church.

"We have four Giving Trees set up throughout the island, each with different names of Fort Myers Beach children, all of whom are in need. Each ornament has a child's wish list. We've combined forces to ensure no child is left out and so every child can get something," Lena said. "We've gathered names from our local churches (both members and non-members of the congregations), the elementary school and other local sources to ensure every child gets something for Christmas. When you make the gift donation, please bring the ornament with you."

All of the toys raised both during and before the poker run Sunday will be wrapped up at TWO?wrapping parties Wednesday, Dec. 17, at 6 p.m., at both Junkanoo and the Red Coconut. All are welcome to attend and help wrap, while having lots of fun, of course, and are asked to please bring your own scissors and tape, if possible. All wrapping paper will be provided.

After everything has been wrapped and ready, Lena said the Fort Myers Beach Fire Department, along with Santa Claus and friends, will deliver the gifts to the kids' homes Dec. 20.

"Those same kids will be coming for the big party Sunday, Dec. 21, at the Beach Baptist Church with Santa and friends," Lena said. "The local Fire Department and Sheriff's Department will be there with several service vehicles, so the children can meet and talk to our first responders. They can get into a fire truck, into a Sheriff's car and see what goes on. The party is for everyone, from infants to teenagers."

Along with the Spirit of the Holidays Beach Kids Foundation, the all-new 501-c3 non-profit Michael DeCarlo Foundation, a.k.a. Bikes for Mike Foundation, has been set up, to ensure beach children in need never go without a Christmas. Visit to see how you can help the foundation.

"We are so very thankful for all of the poker run stops and everyone who has helped make our poker run benefits so successful throughout the years," Lena said. "They have been with us and doing this and supporting us for so many years, and not only do they provide a stop for the run, but they donate to the Sheriff's Department, and they also provide food and discounted drinks to the participants. They really go all out for us, and we greatly appreciate them."

So, come join Lena, Paula (and Mike) for yet another wonderful poker run for a cause Sunday. If interested in making a donation to the foundation, or in the form of a gift for the raffles and silent auctions, or to reserve a space aboard the poker run bus, call Lena, 239-878-1565.

"Let's make Mikey look good we're expecting this to be the biggest run to date, and we want everyone to really do Michael proud. We hope to see you Sunday!"



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