By MADDY VITALE
The crew at Mike’s Seafood Polar Bear Run/Walk for Autism in Sea Isle City is having a lot of fun watching the progress of the polar bear mascot in the virtual fundraiser, “Around the World in 80 Days.”
For every $10 donated toward the cause, the polar bear travels one mile.
The polar bear mascot “left” Sea Isle on Thanksgiving Day with the goal of making it Around the World, or 24,901 miles and back home by Sunday, Feb. 14.
People can donate and watch as the polar bear mascot “travels” around the globe and stops in cities along the way, including Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.
Mike Monichetti, owner of Mike’s Seafood & Dock Restaurant, the organizer of the Run/Walk, said he and his wife, Jeannie, understood why the live event had to be canceled and noted that the virtual fundraiser has been going great.
“Everyone who comes into Mike’s loves talking about the polar bear’s destinations,” he said.
The Monichettis have four children, including two who have autism, Kara, 19, and Michael Jr., 17.
The couple began the fundraiser, which is on their wedding anniversary, 13 years ago, and it grows in how many people attend it and how much is raised.
But this year, it is obviously much harder to raise the money because there is no actual Run/Walk.
So far, more than $19,000 has been raised for autism programs and services, but the goal is $249,000.
“We are very grateful for everyone for their heartfelt generosity,” Monichetti said. “We have a lot of money promised from sponsors that will be coming in the next three weeks.”
Each year, the major fundraiser benefits autism support groups, special services schools and families of special needs children.
Last year, the fundraiser grossed a record-high of $200,000 in donations.
But amid the COVID-19 pandemic, city officials felt that because the event draws big crowds, it would be difficult to social distance.
When the Monichettis received a letter from Sea Isle Police Chief Tom McQuillen explaining that as per the safety guidelines during the pandemic limiting the number of people allowed to gather, it would be best to cancel the live event.
Mike Monichetti said he wasn’t sure what to do.
The idea for the virtual fundraiser came from one of the Monichettis’ friends.
During a November Chamber of Commerce and Revitalization meeting, Mike Monichetti spoke of the need to cancel the Run/Walk and wondered about alternative ways to host the benefit.
Chamber member Toni Grdinich spoke with Monichetti about an idea she had to continue the fundraiser but in a different way this year.
The idea took hold for the fun way to watch the polar bear’s adventures going from city to city on his way back to Sea Isle.
“We are very grateful for this wonderful idea that our family friend Toni Grdinich shared with us about raising money this year with the Around the World in 80 Days.” Monichetti said.
Some people who donated to the virtual fundraiser said a few words in posts about the significance of the Monichettis’ continued push to educate people about autism and help those with it.
Patricia Gentile left these words: “A great cause to support! Thank you Mike and Jeannie for all your hard work over the years.”
Joe and Ann Dreyer said: “Thanks Mike and Jeannie for all you do for families with Autistic and special needs children!”
And Ron and Kathy Custer said: “Thank you Monichettis! Let’s get this bear home to Sea Isle!”
To learn more about Mike’s Seafood Run/Walk for Autism visit, www.polarbearrunwalkforautism.com or call (609) 602-5734.