MORRIS – The spirit of St. Nick was alive and well at the annual Operation St. Nick Christmas in July fundraiser.
Tim and Cindy Harrison, who held the event at Brandt’s Tavern for five years before it was moved to Clayton’s Tap, where owners Scott and Lois Darlington, along with friends Karen Looper and Jan Close, started hosting it three years ago, said they are amazed at how the event has grown.
“We said, ‘Why can’t we have Christmas in July? More people are out and about in the summer and at Christmas they are spending money on their own families.’ ” Cindy Harrison said.
From that moment on, area residents have flocked into town for one Saturday in July to give to area children and veterans.
Joe Schmitz, founder of Operation St. Nick, said the July event gives average working people a chance to contribute at a level that makes them comfortable.
This Saturday, they gave and then gave some more.
The live auction started at 6:30 p.m. in the back room at Clayton’s, where supporters gathered around the room and awaited bidding.
As each auction item was described, those intending to bid would whisper to the person next to them, anticipation glowing in their eyes.
When volunteer auctioneers Richard and Eric Olson, from Richard A. Olson and Associates, called out an amount, hands went up, heads nodded and the bids rose.
A popular item was a package including 16 tickets to Raging Waves Waterpark in Yorkville, with tube rental, lunch and a bus to transport children there. As the bids rose to $500, more people started dropping out, until Andy Fraine was left standing to win the package.
Fraine went to Schmitz and said something that brought tears to Schmitz’s eyes. Fraine donated the trip to a fun-filled day of water and sun to 16 kids of Schmitz’s choosing.
“He just donated this to 16 kids or families,” Schmitz said. “We’ll find 16 kids from Coal City who were affected by the tornado to go.”
Several minutes later, enough money was added to the pool by other donors, including the Darlingtons. This meant 12 more kids would be able to go on the same trip, this time on a bus owned by the Darlingtons.
Eventually a Blackhawks jersey signed by Marián Hossa came up for bid.
The bidding was tough as two others set out to win the bid. Determined, Jeff Eberhard of Coal City didn’t give in and won the jersey. Then Eberhard did the unthinkable.
Eberhard told Schmitz he wanted to pay for it, but he didn’t want the jersey. Instead, Eberhard wanted it auctioned again.
“Oh, come on guys. You’re killing me,” Schmitz said over the microphone as the jersey went back out to bid.
This time the jersey sold for $2,000 to a group of bidders.
Because these bidders didn’t want the jersey, either, it was given to a young man who was there with his family to support Operation St. Nick. That young man was Ryan Bernickus. Bernickus, a Morris resident with osteosarcoma, a cancer that starts in the bones, is a longtime Blackhawks fan. He also received two tickets to the Blackhawks courtesy of Doug Punke. Later, the winner of the 50-50 raffle donated the $594 she won to him.
The organization raised a total of $44,579.20 after expenses, with more than $33,000 coming from the live auction alone. The money will go to 12 Days of Christmas Giving program, which is open to any Grundy County family that includes active duty officers or those who were honorably discharged.