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Celebrity Chef Dinner Sunday to raise funds for local foundation

December 5, 2013
By MELISSA SCHNEIDER ( , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Raising funds for the soon-to-be up-and-coming Fort Myers Beach Bash, hosted by the Florida Helps Foundation, a Celebrity Chef Dinner will be held at The Club at Barefoot Beach, 105 Shell Drive, Bonita Beach, Sunday, Dec. 8, from 5 to 10 p.m., featuring a multi-course gourmet feast prepared by Fran Sheehan (formerly of the classic rock group Boston), wine pairing from B.R. Cohn, and a musical performance by Sheehan and other special guests.

Mike VonPlinsky, executive director of the foundation, is eager to boast this very special event, as it will be raising funds for the foundation's large all-day benefit concert that will hopefully be held sometime in the summer on the island.

"The Club at Barefoot Beach is a spectacular, stunning venue, and it will be a real treat to have celebrity chef Fran Sheehan formerly of Boston prepare the meal, along with other very talented chefs, and offer a very special musical performance shortly after," he said. "It's going to be a very cool evening, with everything starting at 5 p.m., with a Sunset Happy Hour, full of silent auctions with a wealth of hotel and restaurant packages and cash bar. Then, dinner will be served around 6:30 on the second floor fine dining area, followed by an acoustic, "unplugged" performance by Fran Sheehan and some close musical friends."

Perfectly complementing your meal, look forward to a very special wine pairing, provided by the famous Sonoma Valley vineyard of B.R. Cohn (manager of the Doobie Bros., Mike said), topped off with a big dessert surprise.

In addition to the raffle prizes and silent auctions, VonPlinsky said guests will also randomly be given other special gifts, just for being there.

"This is a pre-event, to start raising funds, as we have up-front costs to get the bands and other components set for our Fort Myers Beach Bash fundraiser we hope to have in the summertime," VonPlinsky said. "It's also organized to additionally raise funds to support local autistic causes in the area. Emory Bottorf and Bill Johnson both have played instrumental roles in coordinating and planning this event with me. It's been a great team effort to get this going."

The cost to attend the celebrity event is $100 per seat, or $750 per table of eight.

"All proceeds are going directly to the Florida Helps Foundation, and since it's a donation to a 501-c3 fund, it's tax-deductible," VonPlinsky said.

If that's a bit too steep for your budget right now, he mentioned that all are welcome to join in on Sheehan's special acoustic performance, taking place from about 8 until about 10 p.m. that evening, featuring lots of hors d'oeuvres and a cash bar, for $35 per person.

As a limited amount of tickets is available, it's best to pre-order, and may be purchased online anytime before the event, at Any business who would like to donate an item to the silent auction, or to make a donation to the cause, feel free to call Mike at 239-896-2847, email, visit or find the group's event page on Facebook by searching "Florida Helps Foundation 2013 Celebrity Chef Dinner."

"Come out to an exciting evening of fine dining, vintage wine, great music and good holiday cheer all to benefit the 2014 Fort Myers Beach Bash and our support of improving autism-related services in Lee County, with the goal to bring much needed new capabilities to diagnose and treat children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), a growing spectrum of conditions estimated to affect 1 of every 88 children."

About the Florida Helps Foundation

According to Mike, the Florida Helps Foundation was founded to help select charities throughout Florida primarily Southwest Florida with a major emphasis on trying to improve service for autistic children in Lee County.

The disease hits close to home for Mike. "I have a nephew who has a form of the Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). He was diagnosed very early, and because of that, he was able to get special schooling early, and has become an amazing individual," he said. "He just got into college, accepted in The Juilliard School, going through their pre-acceptance program before that, and focusing on operatic performances. He's unbelievable. I've seen the benefits of early diagnosis, and how much it can change someone's life. As the Florida Helps Foundation, we're working with a variety of service providers in the area, including the children's hospital, to help with early detection."

In order to raise additional funds to help these local causes, with the main focus on autism detection and awareness, Mike and his coordinators are planning to host an all-day Fort Myers Beach Bash sometime in the early summer along Fort Myers Beach.

"We're hoping to make it an annual event, which will be an all-day festival, featuring lots of live music, arts and crafts, food trucks, vendors, supervised play areas for the children and much more including what we call Awareness Alley, welcoming other charities, services and schools to set up at the event, to share their knowledge of their cause or service," he said. "We're hoping it becomes a destination festival, drawing people to the beach in the off-season, and developing packages with local condos and hotels to pull people in from out of town in the summer. Currently, I don't feel there's any major musical arts festival held on Fort Myers Beach in the summertime, and this would be perfect."

He explained the festival will have a two-part concert, with a family-oriented one earlier in the day for families and younger children, and a second one later in the evening, featuring more of a rock concert environment.

Florida Helps Foundation is a 501-c3 organization, and all donations to the cause are tax-deductible. For futher information, visit



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