Fundraiser started by group of friends raises nearly $200 million

Reporter: Lindsey Sablan
Published: Updated:
Winter Wine Festival 2020

Twenty years ago, a handful of friends got together to do some good in Collier County and together they have created a live, high energy auction, to raise money for children.

When the plan to start the money-raising initiative began, the handful of friends never imagined they would raise nearly $200 million.

The need to raise money for children is birthed from the fact that Collier County provides virtually no funding for children’s services, so that is where the group of friends comes in.

Valerie Boyd, her husband, Jeff Gargiulo and friend, Brian Cobb, are some of the faces who started the Naples Winter Wine Festival in 2001.

“You could feel the electricity in that crowd,” said Jeff Gargiulo, trustee of Naples Winter Wine Festival.

But, no one knew how much people would pay for expensive lots of wine.

“Boom the gavel went down and the first lot was purchased by Jim Figgy,” Gargiulo said.

Through the years, the festival has grown, even survived through a difficult recession.

The business-savvy husbands and wives made sure money was set aside for a rainy day, so they could keep giving in bad years. And they have raised nearly $200 million.

“That’s not $200 million minus expenses,” Gargiulo said. “That $200 million is going out the door to help children.”

Over time, they identified key areas of need.

“We have a strategic initiative for mental health,” said Boyd, the trustee of the Naples Winter Wine Festival. “We have one for hunger. We have one for vision.”

Another secret the collection of friends contribute to their success is the auctioneer who runs the fundraiser. The founders call him their “philanthropic secret weapon.”

You can read more about his connection to the cause in this month’s Gulfshore Life magazine. Tickets to the event are sold out, but there is an online auction where you can see the different items available.

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