Dry eyes were few and far between Thursday night as the Destin Charity Wine Auction Foundation donated $2.3 million to 14 Northwest Florida children's charities.
"This is by far the best day of the entire year for all of us at the Destin Charity Wine Auction Foundation," said John Russell, president of the DCWAF. "We are forever grateful to our supporters who are helping to change the lives of so many children in our community."
As the crowd mixed and mingled at Lulu's, which hosted the event, a sense of excitement and energy buzzed about the restaurant. The non-profit organizations and their leadership had no idea how much money they would be receiving prior to the check presentations.
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The 14 charities receiving donations were AMI Kids Emerald Coast ($75,000), the Boys & Girls Club of the Emerald Coast ($100,000), Children in Crisis ($220,000), the Children's Volunteer Health Network ($190,000), Emerald Coast Autism Center ($200,000), Emerald Coast Children's Advocacy Center ($175,000), Food for Thought ($125,000), Habitat for Humanity of Walton County ($162,000), Okaloosa Walton Homeless Continuum of Care/Opportunity Inc. ($75,000), Pathways for Change ($220,000), Sacred Heart Hospital on the Emerald Coast ($225,000), Shelter House of Northwest Florida ($165,000), Youth Village ($140,000), and The Art of the Emerald Coast ($180,000).
Now if you do the math, the donations don't total $2.3 million. But Russell said that was done intentionally.
The DCWAF long strived to create a fund which could be used for emergencies a local charity may encounter. The organization has put aside a $48,000 "children's fund."
"For the first time, DCWAF now has a safety net of funds for any of our charities that may have an emergency requirement for funds outside our normal contributions," Russell said. "It is our hope to continue to grow this fund over the coming years."
As the announcements were made, there were fist pumps, smiles, plenty of hugs and tears of joy.
"The Destin Charity Wine Auction Foundation changes organizations, and by changing organizations they are changing lives," said Staci Berryman, co-founder and director of the Emerald Coast Autism Center.
"The children we see everyday thank God for people like you," Julie Hurst of the Emerald Coast Children's Advocacy Center told the crowd.
Holding up a picture of two children, Teresa Imdieke told a story about a single mother and her family who the organization was assisting. The young woman worked at the Wal-Mart in Santa Rosa Beach and even volunteered during a DCWAF fundraising event.
"Sometimes people just want you to believe in them, to give them a fighting chance," she said.
In addition to the charity donations, the DCWAF also honored Tracy Louthain as its volunteer of the year and Jeanne Dailey as the board member of the year.
For more information about the DCWAF and the charities it serves, see www.DCWAF.org.
As he looked over the crowd for a final thought Thursday night, Russell summed up the evening simply.
"If you are here, you did something great," he said.