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Wine on the Waterfront

By Staff | Nov 1, 2017

This Veteran’s Day, Matanzas on the Bay wants the community’s help to give back to military service members.

The bayfront restaurant is partnering with local organization Operation Open Arms for a fundraiser to support its efforts with local veterans and combat military.

Matanzas will host Wine on the Waterfront from 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 11. It’s the restaurant’s inaugural wine tasting event.

The ticket-only entry grants guests 15 different selections of wines from Argentina, Chile, France, Italy and California, and the restaurant’s fresh seafoods and “culinary delights” will be paired up tapas style with the various vintages, said Matanzas General Manager, Tony Coppolino. The Voice contestant and beach celebrity Sheena Brook will play during the event while attendees enjoy the festivities, prizes and a beautiful view of the bay. Tickets are $100, and can be purchased online at matanzasonthebay.com or from the restaurant. Proceeds will be donated to Operation Open Arms.

“This is an exclusive, social event,” Coppolino said.

Ticket buyers will also get an Operation Open Arms lapel pin as a thank you from the organization.

Vice Mayor Tracey Gore is also helping sell tickets for the event. Someone can also purchase a ticket for a veteran to attend the event, she said in an email.

“This fundraiser is a great way to show your support for those who have served and are currently serving in all branches of the United States Military, while having a great time,” she said.

Coppolino is following the footsteps of the previous general manager who established Matanzas other military fundraiser, Bluegrass, Brews and BBQ. The event, held on Memorial Day, raised more than $7,000 for Operation Open Arms this year.

“We wanted to do more,” Coppolino said. “There are a lot of great charities out there, but Operation Open Arms needs a lot of funding to stay open.”

Operation Open Arms is a support organization that helps active duty and veteran combat military members and their families. The group, run entirely by volunteers, was launched by Captain John “GiddyUp” Bunch in 2005.

One of the organization’s main focuses is providing same-day Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) mental health counseling.

“We try to get them same-day,” Bunch said. “Otherwise they’re getting an appointment two or three weeks out.”

When a member of the military calls in needing help, Bunch says his organization tries to give them their counseling out in the water, on a boat. A former marine and fishing guru, Bunch believes the open, relaxing atmosphere of the water is more beneficial.

“We try to do the counseling on a boat, away from the sterile environment of a psychiatrist office,” he said. “It’s much more conducive to opening up.”

Besides counseling, Operation Open Arms helps provide vacations to active duty combat military. These are all-paid stays to help service members get rest and relaxation. Bunch partners with local businesses to provide these stays; Andrea Carriere, owner of the Silver Sands on Fort Myers Beach, has provided more than 400 free stays to the military since 2012.

Operation Open Arms is a 501(c)3, the organization is reliant on donations, but it’s been successful: it’s given $3.5 million in benefits to soldiers; been recognized by two U.S. Presidents for its work; and featured thrice on the Today Show for its efforts.

Bunch doesn’t like to take credit.

“Without Matanzas, Pink Shell, Silver Sands and other businesses, Operation Open Arms would never have survived,” he said. “Anyone who has a soft spot for honoring our veterans should come and celebrate with us on Veteran’s Day.”

For those who want to donate, but cannot attend, visit operationopenarms.org.