WACHAPREAGUE, Va. — An oyster roast fundraiser hosted by the Island House Restaurant in Wachapreague raised more than $111,000 for the Navy SEAL Foundation.
The 7th annual Island House Restaurant Oyster Roast netted a massive $111,075.28 in a single day for the SEAL foundation that supports the special warfare community and families.
The Island House Restaurant Facebook page posted that the amount jumped later to more than $116,000 when the Navy SEAL Foundation received a separate $5,000 check.
“Seven years ago when we raised just over $12,000, I would never guessed we could raise six figures for this event,” the Facebook post stated.
Sara Berry, Navy SEAL Foundation director of marketing & communications, said she was thrilled when she learned that Island House Restaurant owner Blake Johnson and his team raised that amount of money.
“I'm humbled by the generosity of our donors and supporters. It is a wonderful feeling to know how much love and kindness there is in the world,” said Berry.
The foundation was established in 2000 to serve U.S. Navy SEALs, special warfare combatant-craft crewmen, naval special warfare support personnel and their families.
“We provide a comprehensive set of programs specifically designed to improve health and welfare, build and enhance resiliency, empower and educate families and provide critical support during times of illness, injury, loss and transition,” according to the foundation website.
The Navy SEAL Foundation is 100-percent sustained by donations.
“We are not part of the Department of Defense or federal government. Our programmatic support last year was more than $14.5 million and we could not provide the support that we do without our donors,” said Berry.
The fundraiser, which was held in November, was gaining momentum before it even began.
“Our event sold out in an hour and forty-five minutes this year,” said restaurant owner Johnson.
Johnson credits invaluable auction items and high-dollar donations for the record-breaking amount of money raised.
“The donations for the event’s auction continue to be of greater and greater value, thus resulting in more money raised each year. It is a blessing that people are willing to dig so deep into their pockets to support the event and the foundation,” said Johnson.
Johnson’s idea for the Island House Restaurant to host a Navy SEAL Foundation benefit came to fruition in early 2014 when business associate Danny Vestal and Rhonda Marsh were dining with foundation representatives.
“After some discussion, I learned insight on some of the things the Navy SEAL Foundation was doing to help the active duty members and their families,” says Johnson. “It became obvious to me that we needed to change the benefactor for our oyster roast to the foundation.”
“Mr. Johnson reached out to NSF because he felt the foundation was an organization worthy of support. He understands that the support the foundation provides is needed and he's been so generous with his time and energy,” said Berry.
Johnson added: “I’ve seen firsthand how important their role is in supporting the NSW community. This fundraiser helps me and all who support it to feel as though we are doing what we can to help support their mission and their families.”
Berry said the fundraiser is instrumental in spreading the word about the foundation’s mission. The foundation has five areas of support: Warrior and Family Support, Educational Opportunities, Tragedy Assistance, and Survivor Support, Warrior Transition and Legacy Preservation.
“The Island House funds will be spread over these program areas and will touch many lives,” said Berry. “The foundation takes stewardship very seriously and I'm happy to report that 94 cents of every dollar donated goes to our programs or is maintained for future programmatic use.”
Eastern Shore companies have been the engine driving the fundraiser forward from the beginning.
“Our partners American Shellfish Company, Cherrystone Aqua Farms, H.M. Terry Co., Inc. and Tommy Hines have been with us since the first year and have been just incredible. Every year they say, 'whatever you need'," said Johnson.
Dozens of local and regional artists and artisans, and business owners donate auction items, “which is key to generating the totals we have. It’s truly humbling,” said Johnson. “We had a total of 43 sponsors this year.”
More than 50 volunteers work the oyster roast event including Island House Restaurant employees, family members and customers. Local law enforcement, EMTs, Coast Guard Station Wachapreague provide support personnel while the Onancock Elks Lodge supplies attendees with brownie treats.
The oyster roast is a melting pot of different people coming together for a common passion: A love for seafood and our military.
“In my opinion, there are few venues anywhere that better depict the traditions of an outdoor oyster roast than an Eastern Shore seaside town overlooking the salt marsh where so much history and tradition has occurred,” said Johnson.
“We had very generous donors of high-value auction items and generous donations in general that really made a difference in the end obviously. It will be a challenge to replicate to be sure!”
Berry said, “Special event fundraising is a great way for our community of supporters to spend time together, to share their own stories of why they support and to learn more about the men, women, and families of Naval Special Warfare. We are truly grateful to Blake and the entire team at Island House Restaurant.”