Greener BeeGreen HolidaysBenefit event for Flight to the North Pole aims to make holidays merry

The sun was shinning Saturday as residents brought out their prized cars and motorcycles as the spirit of giving flourished at the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office operations center.

The Flight to the North Pole benefit car and motorcycle show — held to raise money in order to make Christmas possible for local terminally ill children and their families — was bigger than ever this year.

This year’s silent auction overflowed into two rooms with nearly 300 auctions taking place. Lines of tables displayed gift baskets, bundles of gift cards and more.

Big-ticket items this year included Jet Blue airline ticket vouchers, Walt Disney passes, Busch Gardens passes and tickets to a Tampa Bay Buccaneers game. New this year were passes to Treeumph Adventure Course.

Sheriff-elect Rick Wells was humbled Saturday by how the sheriff’s office benefit to support the Flight to the North Pole event has continued to grow.

“We are blessed,” Wells said. “It’s just such a testament to the community that gives so much. Everybody wants to be a part of it and that’s what so great about it.”

The nonprofit foundation that puts on the Flight to the North Pole event was started in 1985 by several Eastern Airlines flight attendants and has continued to grow over the years. Today, the tradition has continued with the annual efforts of the sheriff’s office and the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport Fire Department.

Every year, sheriff’s office employees collect donations from businesses in the community and volunteer their time to support the silent auction. In addition to volunteers, sheriff’s office and other local law enforcement representatives joined hundreds of residents who came out to the benefit with their families to show support and help raise funds.

Cindy Cox, mother-in-law of a deputy, made the trip from her home in Tampa to attend Saturday’s fundraising event.

“I wanted to come down and show support,” Cox said. “Anything you do for children is a good thing.”

Her sister had donated to the event, she said, with a $100 voucher to her restaurant, Beulah, in downtown Sarasota. Cox herself was placing a bid on one of the many bundles of gift cards, all valued at least $50.

“I think it’s amazing that they take time and effort to do this,” Cox said.

At the Flight to the North Pole event, children will watch Santa land at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, get to visit him, have lunch, play games and receive Christmas presents — made possible by Saturday’s event. Without Saturday’s event, many of the children would not receive gifts, organizers said.

“Every year, more employees get involved, detective Kim Zinc, an organizer of the silent auction. “The majority of the stuff was obtained by deputies. Many departments also made baskets.”

Also new this year, she said, were auction items from businesses on Anna Maria Island.

“We had cool stuff from the island,” Zinc said. “We’d never really tapped into the island.”

David Wellette, of Parrish, was among the many people who entered their cars in the show, proudly displaying his green 1994 Corvette convertible.

“I go to a lot of car shows to support whatever needs supporting,” Wellette said. “I love cars.”

It was his first time attending or participating in the Flight to the North Pole show, he said, adding he was impressed by the display of cars and the amount of money that had been raised for the event.

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