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Charities Unite - Three island non-profits come together for one great cause

December 24, 2014
Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

With a whirlwind of community support and the organization of three big non-profit groups on the island, hundreds of Fort Myers Beach children will have an extra wonderful Christmas this year. The Bikes for Mike Poker Run organization teamed up with the newly formed Beach Kids Foundation, along with Beach Baptist Church, to raise thousands of dollars and toys to go to the great, local cause.

Through countless efforts and diligent donations, funds and toys were raised throughout the last several months that created mountains of love (and toys) right here on our low-lying island. But that's not all. On top of all of the toys and funds raised to help the island children have a very special holiday season, more than 100 bicycles were donated and purchased with the monies, and all of the children were surprised during their visit with Santa and friends at Beach Baptist last weekend.

Lena Neroni, lead coordinator of the Bikes for Mike poker run, explains how the fantastic trio came together.

Article Photos

More than 100 island children were surprised with their very own bicycle, along with many other wonderful presents, during a Christmas celebration at Beach Baptist last weekend. The Bikes for Mike poker run group teamed up with the Beach Kids Foundation and Beach Baptist Church to collect the names of hundreds of local children, raising thousands of dollars and toys for the cause. The big party featured Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus, their many elves, Mickey and Minnie Mouse and several other friends, along with a bubble party and lots of smiles. Photos courtesy DAWN GAYLOR.

"The bike drive for the beach kids has been going on through the We Ride for a Reason Poker Run with Mike DeCarlo, Paula Towell, myself, the Commander Morgan Bowden, the Lee Co. Sheriff's Dept. and many, many others for seven years, with Junkanoo on the Beach being the sponsor/anchor business. Prior to that we used to have a toy drive for kids at the Children's Hospital at Health Park. Junkanoo and friends have been doing this for 19 years. Fran Myers' non-profit group, the Beach Kids Foundation, has been working with the Fort Myers Beach Fire Dept's Toy Drive. The idea of a bicycle for each child came from Mike DeCarlo, himself, last year. He said, 'Next year we need to get bikes for every kid.' So, the same group of friends who worked together with the poker run and Pastor Shawn Critser got together within days of Michael's passing and decided to honor Michael's wish to make this happen," she explained. "Pastor Shawn got in touch with people and got about half of the bikes donated. The rest were bought with monies collected from both fund-raising groups, along with toys that were donated through Giving Trees set up at several businesses throughout the beach. There were over 100 kids this year."

After the fund-raising poker run and Beach Kids Foundation Giving Tree collections, along with collecting names of local children from the school, churches and other local sources, a multiple-location Christmas Present Wrapping Party was held at Junkanoo and the Red Coconut, where dozens of volunteers helped wrap the nearly thousands of presents that were collected.

On Saturday, the Fort Myers Beach Fire Department and friends of the Beach Kids Foundation delivered the gifts to the church. It wasn't until Sunday when Beach Baptist, their parishioners and families rounded up all the children from the donation drives and surprised them with a fantastic Christmas celebration.

"Santa was there (Lt. Tom Schmidt, Lee Co. Sheriff), Mrs. Claus (Lena), Mickey Mouse (Shelly Erion), Minnie Mouse (Kim Fullerton), Elf #1 (Lorraine Perei McGuire), Elf #2 (Shelli Schmidt) and helpers Commander Morgan Bowden and Deputy Sheriff Al (the Elf Driver). Alicia Taylor and her son, Avery, came to the church and played with the children and passed out the gifts," Lena said.

When the children found out they were all getting their own shiny new bicycle, as well as many other gifts, they were both shocked and elated.

"I can tell you, as Mrs. Claus, herself, the kids were more than surprised," Mrs. Claus (Lena) said. "They were stunned that they not only got bikes, but each also got a bag of gifts, as well. Each and every one of those kids, all 100+ children, were spectacular! They make you truly understand the spirit of Christmas."

Hopefully these three amazing organizations continue to unite and help even more on the island next year.

In the meantime, for further information on the Bikes for Mike charity, visit For further information on the Beach Kids Foundation, call Red Coconut RV Park at 239-463-7200 (ext. 207) or email For further information on Beach Baptist and the congregation's upcoming benefits and events, visit



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