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SWFL Children’s Charities Inc., organizers of the Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest, is making the largest contribution in its six-year history: trustees are giving as much as $3 million to Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida.

The donation not only satisfies a $10 million pledge made in 2009, but also provides up to $1.2 million as a challenge grant if the money is matched by contributions from the community within the next 90 days.

The trustees voted to challenge the community as a way to create excitement and boost the hospital’s fundraising campaign, said Elaine Hawkins, president of SWFL Children’s Charities and co-chair of the 2014 and 2015 events. It’s time to get the capital campaign done, and our matching dollars are only available until July 31.

The success of the 2015 Wine & Food Fest, which brought in $3.35 million, made the donation possible. All expenses for the two-day event are underwritten by trustees and sponsors, allowing every auction dollar raised to go to the event beneficiaries, which include Florida SouthWestern State College’s pediatric nursing program and Florida Gulf Coast Universitys music therapy program, as well as the children’s hospital.

Trustees, sponsors and hospital representatives gathered for a check-presentation ceremony, and Dorothy Fitzgerald, a member of the SWFL Children’s Charities board of directors and co-chair of the 2014 and 2015 Wine & Food Fests, thanked them all.

“It takes a whole community to raise this kind of money, and we want to recognize the efforts of our trustees, sponsors and dinner hosts,” said Fitzgerald. “They helped us raise enough to make the challenge grant possible, and we can’t wait for the community to respond.”

Both Fitzgerald and Jim Nathan, president of Lee Memorial Health System, recognized Steve Machiz, whose vision launched the Fort Myers Wine Fest with The Rotary Club of Fort Myers in 2005.

Steve had the idea of quality wines and good fellowship for the first wine fest dinner, and there were a lot of naysayers who thought it was a nice thing that wouldn’t really go anywhere, said Nathan. What a wonderful story of love, care, devotion and dedication it became. Great visions never become reality if they don’t become shared visions, and Steve’s leadership in bringing new players into the wine fest kept the dream alive.

In 2008, SWFL Children’s Charities was formed and purchased the logo from the Rotary. To give the event a broader, regional appeal, the Wine Fest was renamed the Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest. After the trustees made their $10 million pledge for the new children’s hospital in 2009, philanthropist Tom Golisano announced a challenge grant to donate $20 million if the community raised $20 million, in addition to the SWFL Children’s Charities pledge. Only $13 million is needed to reach the children’s hospital capital campaign goal.

The 2015 Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest, held Feb. 27 and 28, included nine Friday evening chef-vintner dinners held in private homes from Naples to Captiva. The top-grossing lots during the Saturday afternoon auction inspired the crowd to help sick children. A drawing by 11-year-old Sophia Black, who has been undergoing treatment at Golisano for acute lymphoblastic leukemia, drew bids totaling $500,000. Her artwork will join those of previous child artists, hanging in the hospital. Bidders also raised $600,000 to fund the hospital’s pediatric intensive care services.

In thanking the current Wine & Food Fest trustees, Nathan summed the effort up: It’s all about the children.

The 2016 Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest is scheduled for Feb. 26 and 27. The Wine Fest has raised nearly $15 million in the past seven years, making it the most successful fundraising event in Lee County and one of the top-grossing wine fests in the country. Wine Spectator ranked the event No. 6 on its list of Top 10 U.S. Charity Wine Auctions of 2014.

Laurel Smith, Gravina, Smith, Matte & Arnold Marketing and PR, 239-275-5758,