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Riding for a Reason -- 20th annual Christmas Poker run hits the road Sunday

December 10, 2015
Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

It's now been two decades since three good friends came together to organize a poker run for the children of Fort Myers Beach, and now, 20 years later, the tradition continues, growing and expanding, as the 20th annual Christmas Poker Run hits the road for a cross-county sweep Sunday, Dec. 13, beginning at Junkanoo, with registration at 10 a.m. and kickstands up at 11.

"Plans are moving right along. We expect at least 100 to participate in the poker run this year, and we have a 52-passenger bus available for anyone who'd rather not ride," said Lena Neroni, lead coordinator of the run, and president of the Michael DeCarlo Foundation, the non-profit organization hosting the event. "We host these runs to raise funds and collect toys for children of Fort Myers Beach who otherwise wouldn't have a Christmas."

Over the last 20 years, thousands of children and their families have been given a Christmas, thanks to the poker runs and all involved. "We help about 100 children every year, so just over the last 10 years, it's been at least a thousand children," Lena said. "This year, we're already up to 87 children, and still gathering more names."

Article Photos

The 20th annual Christmas Poker Run hits the road Sunday, and all are welcome to participate. As you can see, it’s a fun time had by all!

Departing Junkanoo at 11 a.m. Sunday, poker-runners can look forward to several great stops along the way, each offering special games, prizes and more for participants, who will also collect one playing card at each location. Head up to the Beached Whale, then on over to the Tiki Bar of San Carlos Park, Crossroads (Cape Coral), Ralph's Place (Cape Coral) and then back to Junkanoo for a big after-party celebration, complete with full buffet spread, courtesy of Alfredo Russo, live music and more fun and games.

"While we're at Crossroads, although we will be hosting a 50/50 at each location, the one we host at Crossroads will go toward helping owner, Vicky, with her medical bills, as she was recently involved in a serious car accident," Lena said. "She is always doing what she can to help others, and this is our chance to help her."

All are welcome to participate in the poker run and all forms of transportation are welcome to join in. The cost to participate is $20 per bike/vehicle, which includes your poker hand and any fun and games that take place at each of the stops. For those aboard the charter bus, the cost is $30, which includes your poker hand.

Poker-running aboard the bus

For those riding along on the poker-running charter bus, there are two pick-up locations: Valerie's Lounge at 9:30 a.m., with loading at 9:45 and departure at 10 sharp, which then heads down to Junkanoo, the second stop.

Feel free to sign up for the bus early at The Mermaid, with registration available as late as noon on Saturday.

Also benefitting

Every year, the Lee County Sheriff's Youth Athletic League is also a recipient to the kind-hearted poker-runners, receiving at least $1,000 for their cause, whose mission is to fulfill the need for recreational, educational, cultural and social activities for the youth of our community, instilling leadership, good sportsmanship, high morals and character through diverse programs and community outreach.

"Each of our stops makes a donation to the Youth Athletic League, and often, we have a few additional kind-hearted souls who make an additional donation to the cause. It just warms my heart every time," Lena said. "I am just so grateful that year after year, we have so many loving, caring people to help our mission."

Christmas-wrapping party

Those attending Sunday's poker run are also asked to bring an unwrapped toy, which will then go to the children in need on Fort Myers Beach during a big Christmas party at Beach Baptist Church the following week. Funds raised during the run are then used to purchase additional gifts for the children.

"Each of our kids gets a bag full of gifts," Lena happily stated. "They are all island children; some are members of the church but most aren't. They are just kids of the beach. We get lists from all the island churches, Beach Elementary and word of mouth."

The annual wrapping party will commence Friday, Dec. 18, at 6 p.m., at Junkanoo, where it's just a good time had by all while wrapping hundreds of presents for the children.

"It's a huge party several hundreds of gifts are wrapped and we just have a blast. It's a good time, and even the Lee County Sheriffs come down and help," Lena laughed. Those attending are asked to please bring their own pair of scissors, but all wrapping paper/tape/ribbon is provided.

The Christmas Party at Beach Baptist

All of the hard work, dedication and donations come to fruition Sunday, Dec. 20, during the big Christmas party celebration, where the island children and their families are given a special Christmas play presentation by the congregation before Santa Claus and friends come by with presents, laughter and cheer.

"All of our families receive special invitations to the party, and members of the church put on a Christmas play, singing songs prior to Santa arriving at 7 p.m.; it's lots of fun and Santa's friends are there, too: Mrs. Claus, Mickey, Minnie and many others," Lena said.

For those who can't participate in the poker run but would like to make a donation to the cause, toy drops have been set up at both Valerie's and Junkanoo; feel free to stop by anytime to drop off your gift.

"This is a big deal 20 years of doing these benefits it's been two decades and I'm a little emotional about it," Lena said. "Twenty freakin' years it just shows you the hard work and dedication of our little island community, all coming together and helping those less fortunate, year after year, after 20 freakin' years. It just warms my heart."

As Michael always said, "We ride for a reason."

For further information or to find out how you can help the cause, contact Lena Neroni, 239-878-1565 or Paula Towell, 239-410-6888. Also, the Michael DeCarlo Foundation can now accept donations via credit card, as well, so for those of you without cash, you can still help the cause. Visit



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