Written by: Tiffany Repecki, Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander
Members of the Sanibel Fire and Rescue District recently joined other Lee County law enforcement and first responders at the annual Tip-A-Cop event to raise funds for Special Olympics Florida.
On March 25-26, public safety employees gathered at a Texas Roadhouse in Fort Myers to raise awareness of and donations for the organization by assisting staff in taking orders and serving diners.
For the second year, island firefighters took part in the event, once reserved for law enforcement.” We were happy to take part again this year ,” Lt. John DiMaria said. He noted that four of the Sanibel crew participated.
“All of us basically went around with different waiters and bussed tables and interacted with the customers,” DiMaria said, adding that they would also fetch extra drinks and bread.” We didn’t necessarily serve the tables, but it was our opportunity to explain to them what we were doing there and what we were raising money for,” he added.
Special Olympics Florida offers year-round sports, health and fitness programs for athletes of all abilities. One hundred percent of the proceeds raised during Tip-A-Cop go to the organization.
Many of the Special Olympics athletes were in attendance and got to converse with diners. “I think that was actually the best part,” DiMaria said. “It was a really cool event,” he added. “We’re going to do this every year.”
DiMaria noted that diners were a bit shocked to see Sanibel present. “But it’s great public relations not just for the city, but for all of Lee County,” he said. “Even though we’re all divided into different districts and cities, we’re all one public safety family.”
Tip-A-Cop is part of the Law Enforcement Torch Run, which entails law enforcement members and Special Olympics athletes carrying the “Flame of Hope” into the opening ceremony at Special Olympics local, state, regional, national, and world competitions.
DiMaria explained that until a few years ago, only law enforcement basically participated. “They didn’t branch out to too many fire districts,” he said of the county. But, times are changing. “It’s going from a law enforcement event to now a public safety event,” DiMaria said.
Sanibel fire members are even planning to take part in the Lee County leg of the torch run. “It’s all throughout the state of Florida. They go to each area of the state and it eventually leads to the State Games,” he said, adding that the Sanibel crew is working on the details. “But we are taking part.”
And having the chance to participate means something to DiMaria.” Special Olympics has always held a special place for me,” he said. DiMaria explained that his son has cerebral palsy. Despite his condition, he described his son as a tremendous runner who enjoys 5Ks. In fact, his son trains every year to run in a different one.
“Special Olympics is a tremendous group of athletes, and it’s a great organization,” he said. “It gives the athletes a day, or multiple days, to feel like a superstar.”
For Lee, the Law Enforcement Torch Run will take place on April 12. The Special Olympics Florida State Summer Games will be held in May at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista. “I encourage everyone to take part, either by donating or supporting the athletes,” DiMaria said.