SEA ISLE CITY — By appearance, Mike Monichetti, the owner of Mike’s Seafood in Sea Isle City, looks like a no-nonsense kind of guy. He’s big, loud and Italian, with a firm handshake and a get-it-done attitude.
But if you ask Monichetti about his passion — bringing awareness to autism — he’ll slow down and start to tear up.
“I get emotional,” he said.
On Sunday, Monichetti stood under a big tent in front of La Costa Lounge in Sea Isle City, setting up folding tables and chairs and hauling several cases of water across the room as he simultaneously shouted orders to anyone in sight.
“We need to have these waters lined up on the table by the time the run is done,” he said. “I still have got to check the microphone.”
Monichetti, of Sea Isle City, is the father of four children, two of whom have autism, and is the organizer of the annual Polar Bear Walk/Run for Autism in Sea Isle City, which was held the day after the city’s annual Polar Bear Plunge.
“God gave me these two children because he knew I was the type of guy that would do something about it and bring awareness to autism,” he said.
This year’s event Sunday brought out more than 2,000 people to walk or run for the cause. During the past six years, the event has raised between $30,000 and $50,000 annually, which goes directly to local autism support groups and families with children on the autism spectrum.
More than a dozen local businesses sponsor the event each year, including La Costa, which hosts a post-run/walk afterparty in a huge tent adjacent to its building.
“It’s very heartwarming to see all the community in this together,” Monichetti said. “Over 2,000 people gather on a Sunday in February down the shore. It’s incredible. An event couldn’t go on without the people.”
Andrea Burgey, of Bridgeton, was this year’s top female fundraiser, raising $3,600 and winning the title 2014 Polar Bear Queen.
Burgey said she didn’t have a fundraising goal but rather wanted to help at least one child get the services they need to cope with the condition.
“It’s a wonderful, wonderful cause, and it affects so many young children,” she said. “If I helped one kid or 100, it was worth it.”
Participant Steve Schad and his 10-year-old son, Peter, who has autism, led a team of more than 50 friends and family members walking for the cause.
Steve said the daily duties associated with raising Peter are “exhausting,” but the support keeps him going.
“It’s a shot in the arm to see all these people who care,” he said. “I have family who flew in from Tennessee, Boston and Texas to walk with us.”
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