By Maddy Vitale
Mike and Jeannie Monichetti, owners of Mike’s Seafood in Sea Isle City, have their months planned out.
“In the summer time we raise money for our family by selling seafood and in the winter time we raise money for kids with autism and other disabilities,” Mike Monichetti said Wednesday, in an interview at their restaurant. “We are happy to do that. For five months we eat, drink, and sleep for nothing else but raising money for children with disabilities.”
The couple, who celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary on Valentine’s Day, have four children. Two of their kids have autism, Mikey, 15, and Kara, 16.
For the Monichettis, having autistic children and knowing some of the challenges, was their motivation for organizing a fundraiser to raise awareness and funds to help those with autism and their families, as well as children with disabilities.
On Sunday, the Monichettis are holding Mike’s Seafood Polar Bear Run and Walk for Autism during the city’s Polar Bear weekend. The run 5-kilometers and a mile-long family fun walk on Sea Isle’s oceanfront Promenade. Registration is from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at a tent set up at LaCosta Motel with the run-walk to begin at noon.
“The reason we did it was we felt there was nothing being done down here in South Jersey to promote autism awareness,” Monichetti said of organizing the benefit. “This is our 10th anniversary. I started this hoping to get a couple hundred people and raise a couple thousand dollars. The first year we had 1,100 people and raised $18,000.”
On Wednesday Monichetti and his employees were busy going over the finishing touches to the benefit signs, stacking some of the fliers and preparing everything for Sunday.
Mike Scanlan, an employee at Mike’s Seafood was nonstop working with fellow employee Dan Arroyo to go get ready for the benefit.
“Since we started, it just gets bigger and bigger. It’s unbelievable the way it has grown. We never thought it would be this big,” Scanlan said. “It’s a great event.”
Last year drew the largest crowd to date, of 3,000 and $158,000 was raised for autism awareness.
The Monichettis hope to break that record this year.
Proceeds from the benefit goes to Autism Speaks, a national organization, special services schools, autism support groups and families of special needs children.
In the past, funds raised also went to the purchase of three-wheel bikes for children with autism and disabilities, and therapeutic horseback riding lessons. Some of the proceeds also paid for a mother of an autistic child, who didn’t have funds to heat their house, to fill her oil tank, Monichetti said.
In addition to the run-walk Sunday, there is an after party at LaCosta Motel with a continental breakfast, door prizes, live music which includes a performance by a string band provided by an anonymous donor, magicians and face-painting and an awards ceremony.
The couple’s passion to spread awareness about autism and children with disabilities is evident.
“I firmly believe the Lord gave us two children with autism because he knows we could do something about it,” Monichetti said. “We would promote autism awareness and do what it takes to inform people that if your child is delayed, there are services out there that you need. If you think your child is delayed get help.”
Both Mikey and Kara Monichetti, considered “moderately autistic,” received help when they were very young, which is so important when raising a child with autism, Jeannie Monichetti said.
“Every child is completely different,” she said of the degrees of autism. “There has been a tremendous change over the years, to the point that everyone knows someone with autism. We are hoping the run will raise more money than before, and we will be able to help more people.”
Mike Monichetti said the event is supported by the community and suppliers of Mike’s Seafood. He also said Sea Isle City Mayor Lenny Desiderio and Business Administrator George Savastano have been extremely supportive of the event.
“It’s a great day to come out with your family to raise money for children with disabilities,” he said. “Our slogan is, ‘Any day you could do something for children with disabilities, it’s a good day.’”
For more information or to donate online visit polarbearrunwalkforautism.com or call (609) 602-5734.