Dr. Steve Machiz, a retired Fort Myers urologist, recently was awarded the Frank Haskell Humanitarian Award by Lee Health Foundation for his efforts as founder of SWFL Children’s Charities Inc. and its annual Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest. That event, which he took over from Fort Myers Rotary Club in 2008 to focus on one large beneficiary, has raised more than $19 million for Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida. Machiz served as chairman until 2013 and continues to serve as a trustee for the charity, which has also pledged $3 million to create SWFL Children’s Charities Eye Institute of Golisano Children’s Hospital.
Why did you create SWFL Children’s Charities?
My driving vision was that I wanted to do things that could change a lot of lives. As a physician and having served on several boards at Lee Health, [I knew] they’d been trying to raise money for a children’s hospital for 20 years. The Wine Fest was able to jump-start that fundraising. About three years ago, they finally got to $100 million.
How important are trustees in making the Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest a success?
I found a dozen like-minded people willing to give $10,000 renewable yearly [for operating costs], so we’re able to say 100 percent of donations go to the Children’s Hospital effort. The Wine Fest is the sole event, but it’s almost a year-round endeavor. Trustees put together auction lots and host dinners for 25 to 30 people in their homes. Through relationships, they bring in their friends. That’s how we built it.
How has the charity grown over the past 12 years?
We raised $625,000 the first year. After three to four years, we were up to about $2 million a year. We try to keep it realistic here. There are fewer auction items [than at the Naples Winter Wine Festival] because there are fewer bidders in the audience. Naples has a subset of extremely wealthy people. Fort Myers has a limited number of those kinds of folks, so it’s on a more modest scale.
What is the most popular auction item at the Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest?
The children’s art is by a child who was saved by the Children’s Hospital. We ask, “Who will bid $5,000?” and we raise $300,000 to $400,000 on that item alone. It brings into focus why we’re doing this. Another popular one is the “Fund a Cause” auction lot. From that, we bought state- of-the-art incubators for $45,000 apiece for the [neonatal intensive care unit].
What does the Frank Haskell Humanitarian Award mean to you?
I really am profoundly pleased and honored to be recognized. The real joy is the knowledge that the Wine Fest has made such a difference in the lives of so many children and their families. Some things have an initial burst of enthusiasm, but I’m proud that it looks like it’s becoming a movement. Wine Spectator rates wine fests on a yearly basis. We’re consistently in the Top 10 that raise an average of $1 million to $2 million. I hope people continue to come forward and give it the energy and life it needs to survive.