Belleair Rotary gears up to do some good with its Wine and Tapas fundraiser

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Members of the Belleair Rotary Club deliver 11 bicycles to students at Belleair Elementary School as part of a previous club initiative. The club is looking to help the school out again by donating proceeds from its Wine and Tapas at the Bluffs event that will be held May 18.

CLEARWATER — No two diapers are exactly the same.

That’s the lesson members of Belleair Rotary Club learned last year when given a crash course in buying baby diapers for the Pinellas County Babycycle community diaper bank.

Tasked with buying a large volume of baby diapers at retail, a group of male Belleair Rotary Club members assumed that all diapers are created equal.

They assumed wrong.

“Some of the guys went into the store and bought the wrong diapers — they bought ladies’ diapers,” recalled Sebastian Berdychowski, president of the Belleair Rotary Club. “It was a very fun experience for the guys to go and find out how to buy diapers.”

Launched 32 years ago, the club solved its diaper dilemma, staying true to its charter of helping people in need.

At its height, it had 40 members, but faced with the pandemic and many of its original members passing away, the club has been pared to about a dozen members, Berdychowski said.

The club meets on Thursdays at noon at Belleair Coffee, 100 N. Indian Rocks Road in Belleair Bluffs.

“It’s now a smaller group; we definitely need new faces,” Berdychowski said.

Berdychowski, who joined the club roughly five years ago, said he had no idea what the club actually does.

“I had no idea what I was getting myself into,” Berdychowski recalled. “We are basically a bunch of people getting together for lunch and coffee, and we come up with different ideas,” Berdychowski said.

“This is not a social club, or a place to make business,” Berdychowski said. “Nobody gets paid here. The idea, is basically helping others.”

The club’s simple charter: help local groups that are seeking assistance.

“We get phone calls from schools, from different organizations that need help,” Berdychowski said. “We are basically here to help.”

To do that, the club each year holds several fundraising events in the area.

However, the onset of COVID-19 in early 2020 hampered the club’s ability to hold in-person meeting and fundraising events.

“COVID-19 has really stopped us — it’s been a big block,” Berdychowski said. “Slowly, we are starting to come back.”

Before the pandemic, the club’s mantra was to make sure that money it raises gets to the people who need it.

Berdychowski said 99.9% of the money the club raises goes to the organizations it supports.

One 2020 fundraising event raised cash to purchase 11 bicycles for Belleair Elementary School. The club had previously raised funds to help the school buy some essential staples.

“I’ve had calls from the principal and instructors asking for us to send simple things, like pencils, and even clothes for kids,” Berdychowski said. “So, what we, members of the club do, is get together, organize an event and then write them a check or deliver them bicycles, or books, or school supplies.”

BRC last year provided a $500 donation to Belleair Elementary School. The donation will be used to purchase school uniforms, shoes, socks and undergarments.

The club also regularly helps St. Vincent de Paul Community Kitchen and Resource Center, which provides meals for the needy.

In April 2020, club members collectively rolled up their sleeves to help out.

“We got our guys together at 5 o’clock in the morning and prepared a meal for about 150 homeless people,” Berdychowski said.

Pre-COVID, the club each year would hold two outdoor barbecues for youth soccer team players and families at the Clearwater YMCA.

“In the last 5 years, we have fed about 2,500 kids and parents,” Berdychowski said.

It has also provided volunteer support to the Tampa Bay area Salvation Army for its annual Red Kettle Fundraiser.

The club has hosted a youth Christmas party for children who live at the Sheriffs Youth Ranch, and also helped raised funds to support the Pinellas County Education Foundation.

The club right now is getting ready to purchase 10 to 15 baby trees that will be planted around the area as part of a mandate by the International Rotary Group that every rotary club member be required to plant a tree.

“Trees are very important in our community,” Berdychowski said. “We are ready to donate money to some organization that will plant them for us.”

The club’s first big fundraiser this year is Wine and Tapas at the Bluffs. It’s to be held May 18 from 5 to 8 p.m. at The Plaza at Belleair Bluffs, 100 N. Indian Rocks Road.

The outdoors event will feature wine, tapas, raffles and entertainment. Wine is from Bella Vino and appetizers will be served by E&E Stakeout Grill, Sekushi Sushi and Belleair Coffee.

For tickets, call or text Sebastian at 727-265-6658 or email sberdych@gmail.com. Tickets are $35 in advance and $50 at the door.

Proceeds from the event are to go to the Belleair Elementary School.

Wine and Tapas is also actually the first in-person fundraiser Belleair Rotary Club has held since the onset of COVID-19.

The Rotary Club began holding its weekly meetings on the internet in early 2020, but then went back to in-person meets after Florida restaurants last summer were allowed to reopen.

“Unfortunately, because of the pandemic and also because we have lost a number of club members, we haven’t done it for two years now,” Berdychowski said. “This will actually be the first large event for this year.”

Two years ago, Wine and Tapas raised an estimated $40,000 in funds for Belleair Rotary Club.

Given the current economic circumstances, Berdychowski says the club has more modest fundraising expectations.

“We are starting all over,” Berdychowski said. “This year we are going to expect about five, seven, maybe $8,000, unless we were to get some major sponsors in the next two weeks.”