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Christmas in July breaks record for St. Nick

MORRIS – It was Christmas in July Saturday night at Clayton’s Tap but this time it was St. Nick getting the presents – Operation St. Nick that is.

Guests packed the back room for the live auction as the bids were driven higher with the wave of a hand and the nod of a head.

Tony and Kristina Cameron dropped a check for $3,600 when the auction was done, which will provide back-to-school supplies for Grundy area children.

“We both grew up with almost nothing,” Kristina said. “I wouldn’t want any kid to go without.”

The two began to hesitate as a signed White Sox jersey went higher and higher, but they were determined to get it, and for a mere $2,300 the framed jersey went home with them.

“I”m a huge Sox fan, but that’s not why I did it,” Tony said. “We try to help kids.”

Operation St. Nick is a nonprofit organization that works to help Grundy County families in need at Christmas, Easter and with back-to-school supplies. Saturday’s fundraiser is an annual event that goes toward the organization’s Back-to-School program.

The fundraiser raised $40,070 in total for the night between the raffles, silent and live auctions.

“We prayed for a great crowd, and what we witnessed was beyond our expectations,” one of the event organizers Lois Darlington said. “The energy, support and friendship for the cause and Joe Schmitz was truly inspiring. We are thrilled with the record-breaking amount we raised on Saturday, and are already making plans for next year’s event.”

Joe Schmitz, president of Operation St. Nick even got in on the fun when one bidder offered him a $100 bill to sing “Go Cubs Go.” Being an avid Sox fan, he didn’t know the words but with a little prompting, he sang the tune as loud as he could to bring in the extra money.

He even put up for auction an autographed copy of his book that was for sale at the front of the bar for $15. The enthusiastic crowd drove its price to $850 leaving Schmitz speechless, but just for a few moments.

“We’ve been doing this for 32 years,” Schmitz yelled to the noisy crowd. “We’re going to do it for another 32 years. We’re never going to stop.”

The crowd erupted in cheers and the bidding took off again.

A vacation with $500 worth of air travel was the high auction item selling for $2,750 to Buddy Harper who said it was just an accident he ended up at the fundraiser Saturday night. While he’s always been a big supporter of Operation St. Nick, he wasn’t due to be in town, but a last minute trip landed him in town for the big night.

Some of the items had no street value as they can’t be bought anywhere but at certain charity auctions, including a ride to school on a firetruck offered by Morris Fire Protection & Ambulance District Chief Tracey Steffes.

“We’ve done it before, and we can’t offer it a lot, but it goes over really well,” Steffes said. “Our guys volunteer their time to be able to contribute to good causes.”

When the live auction ended, it was announced that just the live auction portion of the evening raised $24,575. Schmitz and organizers Darlington, Jan Close and Karen Looper were certain they surpassed their goal to make it the largest amount ever brought in during the Christmas in July event.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think we could beat $30,000,” Schmitz said. “We have a lot of new people I haven’t seen before.”

He said the money raised would help so many people.

“It’s nice to know we can offer so much for back to school,” he said. “So many people have a job, but they can’t keep up with the bills.”

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