Gecko World: a combination of an art show, a ball, a bar crawl and a street festival, all with one common denominator: giving back. All four events share the power to help local charities through financial donations in a tradition that goes back 10 years.
“I could say a whole lot about Gecko Fest,” said Scott Linde, Vice President of the Gulfport Merchant’s Chamber. “We just have a crazy blast on the streets with 30,000 plus visitors to Gulfport. It’s already great before you factor in the charity part, and that makes it all the more wonderful.”
The Sonia Plotnick Health Fund is on the roster to receive funds from the Gecko organization this year, but also benefited in 2015 and 2017. Money received from Gecko World totaled $5,375 according to Becky Turner, the health fund’s co-chair and funds administrator. With that money, the organization was able to help 115 women between 2015 and 2017 and start a scholarship program for women studying in healthcare fields at St. Petersburg College.
The Sonia Plotnick Health Fund is a nonprofit that helps uninsured and underinsured women in the Tampa Bay area get quality healthcare. The nonprofit is 100% volunteer run.
“There has always been mutual support between SPHF and the former Gulfport Merchants Association and now the Gulfport Merchants Chamber,” said Turner. Turner says the health fund got involved with Gecko World by responding to a call for festival volunteers.
“For us it is giving back to the community, and the association, who has supported us,” said Turner.
The list of beneficiaries from Gecko World is varied, but never loses focus: providing support to the local community. The Gulfport Historical Society received funding in November of 2016. The group has held onto the funding (several thousand dollars) since 2016 and has plans along with the city of Gulfport to use it for a guided walking tour. Instead of using traditional signage on poles, the tour will display the information using granite or marble markers, which will be inset into the sidewalk.
“The GMA was very generous with us,” said Cathy Salustri, the society’s president. Salustri says inset markers will hold up better over time and won’t be as vulnerable to vandalism and weather.
Other past beneficiaries of Gecko events include the AIDS Service Association of Pinellas (now known as EPIC), Gulfport Little League, Gulfport Public Library Circle of Friends, Daystar Life Center and more.
This year, alongside the Sonia Plotnick Health Fund, the Gulfport Senior Center Foundation and the nonprofit Operation Regroup were selected. Operation Regroup pairs veterans with at-risk youth to renew purpose for veterans and empower young people. In their Gecko World Grant proposal, Operation Regroup outlined ways the group plans to use funds, like a veteran’s garden section at the Gulfport Library.
“Gulfport has been an incredible support and a friendly neighborhood to all that we do,” said Operation Regroup president Myles Maness. “Gecko Fest is an incredibly well-known for helping Gulfport and the community to thrive, and we are insanely excited to be a part of it.”
For more information on this season’s Gecko events, including the upcoming Gecko Pub Crawl on August 11, visit geckofest.com.