By TIM KELLY
The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t stopped Mike Monichetti, his family and loyal staff of Mike’s Seafood & Dock Restaurant in Sea Isle City from making a positive impact in fighting and raising awareness of autism.
Last year, the Mike’s Seafood Run/Walk for Autism took the event virtual and raised almost $140,000 for the cause, ($139,800 to be exact). Using the theme “Around the World in 80 Days” and the progress of Mike’s Bear, the iconic seafood restaurant and take-out shop’s autism run-walk mascot, the donations poured in.
With money donated, Mike’s Bear moved around the world with his picture superimposed at landmarks along the way, including the Liberty Bell, Wrigley Field in Chicago and the cable cars of San Francisco. From there, the bear “surfed” into Hawaii and made stops at the Taj Mahal, Great Wall of China and Leaning Tower of Pisa among other virtual visits.
“The event worked so well because of the true generosity and the big hearts of some great people,” Monichetti said.
The bear’s last stop was Rick’s Café in Casablanca before returning to his beloved Sea Isle home for Presidents Day weekend and Valentine’s Day – and amassing the final total.
This year, Monichetti is sticking with the winning formula and hoping to do even better, but with a new twist. Mike’s Bear will stay in the United States this time. He will “drive” Mike’s Fish Truck to accomplish his goal of visiting every state in the union. “50 States in 50 Days” is the theme, Monichetti said.
For more information, to donate, to track Mike’s Bear’s progress and to learn more about the campaign, visit the website, www.polarbearrunwalkforautism.com.
Folks can also learn more by visiting Mike’s Seafood, a third-generation business landmark in the heart of Sea Isle’s Historic Fish Alley at 4222 Park Road. It is known for selling the best and freshest seafood and also complete meals.
In addition to his key role with the Autism Run/Walk, Monichetti has a long history of sponsoring charitable activities on behalf of the city and community organizations. He has hosted numerous dinner functions as well as donating time, resources and meals for clubs, organizations and civic groups.
The actual Run/Walk last took place two years ago. Now in its 15th year, the event has become a key component of the city’s annual Polar Bear Plunge celebration over the Presidents Day weekend. The Plunge, a chilly dip in the ocean by thousands of people, has grown in size and popularity to a point of imposing stress on city services to sustain it.
Monichetti said the city has been supportive of the Run/Walk and the Plunge throughout its 25-year history, growing it into one of the Jersey Shore’s largest and most successful off-season events.
But last September, Sea Isle sent a letter to all businesses informing them that private events such as the Polar Bear Plunge can no longer be held on city streets, municipal parking lots or other public property due to the strain on city resources and liability concerns.
“City sanctioned programming which has traditionally occurred inside and/or outside City facilities will continue as in the past,” the letter says of Sea Isle’s public events and entertainment. “However, privately sponsored events requiring or seeking to utilize City streets, parking lots, or inside and/or outside facilities are no longer permitted.”
Nevertheless, the city can expect another successful Presidents Day weekend this year, Monichetti predicted.
“Everyone will enjoy a long four-day weekend,” he said. “Visitors and residents, restaurants, take-outs, retail shops and community businesses will all enjoy a banner weekend, regardless of the future Polar Bear Plunge’s cancellation,” he said.