Flight to the North Pole car-motorcycle benefit draws record Halloween crowd in Manatee County

Sgt. Dwayne Dennison announces the winners of the car and motorcycle show at the Flight to the North Pole benefit Saturday.JESSICA DE LEON/ Bradenton Herald
Sgt. Dwayne Dennison announces the winners of the car and motorcycle show at the Flight to the North Pole benefit Saturday.JESSICA DE LEON/ Bradenton Herald

MANATEE -- It wasn't just your average car show. It was Halloween, but Christmas spirit was alive and well.

Hundreds came out Saturday to the Flight to the North Pole benefit car and motorcycle show helping raise money for an event serving about 100 terminally ill children and their families annually in providing Christmas cheer.

This year, two terminally ill children who previously attended were't there, said Lt. Bon Mealy with Crime Prevention.

"It's very humbling," Mealy said. "Since we know some of these kids may not have another Christmas. It tugs at your heart strings."

This year's event was the largest the sheriff's office has ever seen, with 125 cars and motorcycles registered.

The sheriff's office-sponsored event was started in 1985 by several Eastern Airline flight attendants and continues to grow with the assistance of the Sarasota/Bradenton Airport Fire Department and local businesses. In addition to a visit from Santa, children enjoy lunch, clowns, animals, a children's chorus, various activities and, of course, receiving presents.

The event sustains the Flight to the North Pole with its proceeds from the silent auction and 50/50 raffle. It addition to the car and motorcycle show there was also food for sale, face painting and a costume contest.

Bill Grow was waiting line to pay for his winning bid.

"It's just a great event," Grow said. "I don't think I have ever missed one."

Grow also participates in the car show each year, he said. This year he displayed his 1958 Chevy truck. Other years, he said, he displayed his 1964 Corvette.

Businesses donate baskets of goodies or gift cards to auction off. About 250 baskets featured a variety of items, including movies, sports paraphernalia, car care and pampering products.

"This is the first time that we had employees make baskets," said detective Kim Zinc, an event organizer. "A lot of departments made multiple baskets so we actually had 50 extra baskets."

Sheriff's office employees helped run the event, donated to the silent auction, and many were seen with their families placing bids. Dispatcher Lucretia Martinez had winning bids on some baskets of gifts for her grandchildren.

"It's all about the kids," Martinez said.

Her department put together 13 baskets for the auction, she said. Her squad was in charge of shopping.

"And we had a ball doing it, a ball doing," Martinez stressed. "It also kind of brought our squad together."

Five-year-old Justine Wilson was taking a break from the fun the event had for children.

"I got candy and I went to see the owls," Justine said referring to wildlife on display at the Wildlife Education and Rehabilitation Center Inc. booth. "The little one looks cute."

For Justine, it was her first time attending, but for her grandfather, Bob Kushner, it wasn't.

"It's bigger than ever," Kushner said. "It's for a great cause."