MARCO ISLAND — Craving fresh seafood? Enjoy live entertainment? Looking for weekend plans with the family?
The answer is Marco Island Seafood Festival, the island’s largest community event. On Saturday and Sunday, Veteran’s Park, in the center of the island, will turn into an exciting variety of continuous entertainment with some of the best seafood in Florida and a special kids’ zone. More than 60 arts-and-crafts vendors will offer a shopper’s paradise.
For the third consecutive year, two Rotary clubs and the Kiwanis Club on Marco Island will work together to bring a remarkable, yet flourishing, festival to the community. This innovative idea started with former Sunrise Rotary Club president Stan Niemczyk. He decided it was time to raise a substantial amount of money for children in need of surgery for serious health defects at prominent institutions like Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Miami. Despite the time and knowledge contributed by the various hospitals and staff, it is still very expensive for families.
To help with such a large fundraiser, Niemczyk recruited past Noon Time Rotary Club president Val Simon, who thought it was a great opportunity for both clubs. Simon and Niemczyk joined forces with ex-president of the Kiwanis Club and Niemczyk’s wife Donna. Although the three clubs work in different ways, they do have similar goals.
“It has brought the clubs together,” said Ewout Rijk de Vries, public relations director for the festival. “The hurdles, personalities and policies between the different clubs are now something of the past.”
The core group of Niemczyk, de Vries, Dennis Pidherny, Stef Stefanides, Al Diaz, Wanda Day and Simon has gotten to know each other well, since they spend six months planning the event. During the festival, more than 200 volunteers help make it possible.
“The first year was such a success we decided to have a second,” said de Vries.
It will continue each year, he said, especially while the festival brings money into the community. In the festival’s first year, some 9,000 people from all over the state and as far north as Atlanta turned out for seafood, pizza, hot dogs, hamburgers and specialty treats like Dutch poffertjes, fluffy mini-pancakes made with yeast and buckwheat flour typically served with powdered sugar and butter.
“The Marco Island Seafood Festival is a true community event,” said de Vries.
It brings Islanders together for fine food, live entertainment and fun for all ages, while raising money for charitable projects. That is what de Vries feels makes the Marco Island Seafood Festival distinct from the long-standing Everglades Seafood Festival held annually in February.
“There are added benefits for our area,” said de Vries about the festival. “Hotels have seen increased occupancy. Even restaurants on the island are busier because the festival closes late afternoon and this is expected to further increase since we have decided to close down earlier on Sunday.”
The festival will get under way at 10 a.m. both days, but will end at 6 p.m. Saturday and 5 p.m. Sunday. This year, 10 bands and performers, including The Lely Jazz Band, Marco Island Strummers, Gladezmen, Smokin’ Joe Konnie Band, Uptown Express, Andy Wahlberg, Raifod Starke and JRobert and Sabrina, will supply two days of entertainment. The Seminole Casino will offer additional entertainment from Native Rock.
Carefully selected seafood vendors will offer fresh fish, stone crab, shrimp, blue crab and fish chowder. The Seminole Casino will have its chef’s specialties and other non-seafood items will be available once again.
“The whole idea is to have a pleasant event for the whole family,” said de Vries.
Want to help a charitable organization, while enjoying all the Marco Island Seafood Festival has to offer? The admission of $6 will help continue providing for more than 55 humanitarian projects the three clubs currently support. Children 12 years old or younger enter free.
Even in a struggling economy, the festival has a record 18 individual sponsors and commercial enterprises, such as the Seminole Casino in Immokolee, Mutual of Omaha Bank and Comcast, donating a combination of cash and services.
The brightly-colored Seminole Casino busses will provide rides to Veterans Park at no Boulevard with overflow parking at the Naples Health Care Center, charge to festival goers. Parking will be available near the festival, along South Collier across from city hall, or any place along the shuttle’s route. There will be public entrances on the Winn Dixie side of the park, next to Sunset Cove condominiums and on the opposite side near Joy Circle.
For more information on the festival’s entertainment schedule, visit www.marcoislandseafoodfestival.com.