By Donald Wittkowski
The sponsor of a major charity event that raises money for autism awareness during Sea Isle City’s popular Polar Bear Weekend celebration said he is gearing up for the biggest turnout ever.
Mike Monichetti predicted that more than 3,000 people will participate in the Mike’s Seafood Polar Bear Run and Walk for Autism on Feb. 18.
“I actually think this will be the biggest Polar Bear walk we’ve ever had,” said Monichetti, owner of Mike’s Seafood & Dock Restaurant on Park Road in Sea Isle’s historic Fish Alley neighborhood.
The walk-run, scheduled to get underway at noon on the Promenade, is one of the centerpieces of the Polar Bear Weekend festivities Feb. 16-18. The annual Polar Bear celebration, highlighted by a plunge in the frosty ocean, traditionally draw thousands of visitors to town in the dead of winter, reviving Sea Isle during what would normally be a quiet time at the Jersey Shore.
“I think it’s going to be the biggest weekend for Polar Bear that Sea Isle has ever had,” Monichetti said.
Last year’s walk-run raised more than $100,000 for autism-related causes and organizations. Proceeds from this year’s event will benefit the organization Autism Speaks as well as autism support groups, special services schools and families of special needs children.
Monichetti, who has a daughter, Kara, and a son, Michael Jr., who have autism, said he has been heavily promoting the event throughout South Jersey in hopes of drawing thousands of participants. He noted that this is the 10th anniversary of the walk-run.
“This is the most aggressive campaign this year in getting the word out,” Monichetti said in remarks Tuesday during the Sea Isle City Chamber of Commerce and Revitalization’s monthly board meeting.
He joked that he has “carpet-bombed pretty much all of South Jersey” with promotional materials and advertisements. More information on the event, including registration, is available online at www.polarbearrunwalkforautism.com.
Last year’s walk-run benefited from spring-like temperatures soaring into the 60s. Organizers estimated the 2017 turnout was more than 3,000 people, one of the biggest crowds ever, if not a record.
Monichetti said he is looking for an even larger turnout this year. He has been working with organizations, businesses and corporations throughout South Jersey to promote the event, which includes a 5-kilometer run and a mile-long family fun walk on Sea Isle’s oceanfront Promenade.
Monichetti believes that the walk-run may get a boost from the lingering euphoria over the Philadelphia Eagles’ Super Bowl win, including the championship parade Thursday that unfolded along Broad Street and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in front of an estimated two million fans.
“People are in a festive mood,” he said.