Preliminary figures show that the Island Coast AIDS Network (ICAN) raised $30,000 during the Southwest Florida AIDS Walk/Run/Ride held Saturday, April 16 at Cambier Park in downtown Naples. The top individual fund raiser was Mr. Thom Croce, a Naples High School teacher, with $4,600. The top fund raising team honors went to Bambusa Bar and Grill team which raised $4,100 in the walk portion of the event.
This year's event was expanded to include a certified 5K footrace and a 100 mile "century" bike ride. A large crowd participated in the Walk/Run/Ride and many brought their dogs with them to enjoy the park and Downtown Naples.
The Island Coast AIDS Network is a United Way Partner agency that provides vital support services such as food, transportation and case management services to over 400 AIDS infected individuals and their families in Southwest Florida. Our mission is "To stop the spread of HIV/AIDS and assist individuals infected and affected in Southwest Florida."
Under dim lights, friends and strangers lit 49 candles to honor each of the 49 lives lost in the massacre. They sobbed and hugged one another, placed their hands on each other's shoulders.
The names and photos of the victims of the mass shooting at a gay Orlando nightclub Sunday night were projected in a slideshow Thursday night at the front of Bambusa Bar and Grill in downtown Naples.
"This is our community," said Steve Soutner, co-owner of the bar. "Orlando is not alone. We all stand by them, we all stand together. This tragedy affects everyone, no matter who they are."
Pulse and Bambusa are 191 miles away, but the prayers reach.
On Thursday night, about 200 people came to Bambusa to mourn the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting and to raise money for the families. An auction raised more than $9,800, and 25 percent of the bar's take Thursday night will go to victims.
Gay Pride Month is celebrated in June to honor the Stonewall Riots and, more recently, to mark the Supreme Court ruling that made gay marriage legal nationwide.
"It's especially hard to see this attack happen during a month that celebrates so many great things for the gay community," said Pedro Blanco, 64, a Bambusa regular. "It's so cold and calculated that the shooter would pick a place that was having a big celebration."
Soutner and Mel Biondi, partners and co-owners, said they strive to make their bar a safe and joyful place for patrons.
"This is always a place of fun, love and joy," Blanco said. "That's ultimately what you come to a gay bar for — for the love and acceptance."
The people at the bar will continue to live in love and acceptance, they said, because living in fear isn't an option.
Jason Donahue, 44, and John Donahue, 56, met when they weren't looking for love, in a place where all they feel is love.
They saw each other across the bar at Bambusa 10 years ago this November.
Jason Donahue, who has lived in Naples for 16 years, said the gay community in the area is small enough that everyone at Bambusa knows one another.
"And if you come in and we don't know you, we'll know you by the end of the night," he said.
The Donahues had friends over to their home for game night Saturday. When they awoke Sunday morning, all they saw all day was news of the tragedy.
"We didn't go out, didn't do anything," Jason Donahue said. "We didn't know what to do. We watched as the body count went from 20 to 50. It was horrifying."
"I thought it was only a matter of time something like this would happen," he said. "John and I are going to the gay pride festival in Orlando this weekend. Will I have my guard up? Yes. But it's the right thing to do, to stand up and defend who we are."
If you're seeking casual nightlife in Naples, FL, this bar's delicious drink options and neighborhood feel make the perfect pick. Happy hour runs daily from 4pm to 7pm, and the bar menu is available all day. Choose from a variety of beer, wine and cocktails like the Jamaican Jammer or Barracuda. When hunger strikes, go for the Texan burger with cheddar, barbecue sauce and bacon or the Fishermen's Wharf wrap with beer-battered cod and Swiss.