PUNTA GORDA — To the dozens of volunteers who played music, poured beverages or served up corn on the cob to save the Punta Gorda Block Party Saturday afternoon, it felt as good to give as to receive.
After all, they got to share their talents and help finance the continuation of an event that’s been a Punta Gorda tradition since 1987.
“We can’t think about Punta Gorda without thinking about the Block Party,” said Mariela Croker, a Future Farmers of America team member who was volunteering with her daughter, Cassie, at Phil and Linda Wilson’s Korn on the Kob booth.
“It’d almost be like Philadelphia without the Philly cheesesteak,” added fellow FFA volunteer Roy Wesemeyer.
Hundreds attended the event, held at the former Punta Gorda Mall property. The proceeds are slated to finance the 2013 Block Party, set for April.
The funding is crucial because, over the past four years, the city stopped contributing an annual $5,000, and began charging fees for staffers from the Public Works, fire and police departments, said Mike Dallenbach, Block Party entertainment chairman.
Also, at last spring’s Block Party, heavy rains reduced attendance. To make ends meet, organizers depleted the Block Party’s “rainy day fund,” he said.
“That was the first time in 24 years it rained (hard) on the Block Party,” he said.
Saturday’s crowd was sparse early during the event, which was to continue until 9 p.m. However Dallenbach said the community’s support was “heartwarming.”
He noted five bands — including night-spot singer Danny Pezzin, doo wop artists The Goldtones, and the crowd-energizing BoogieMen — donated their fees. Other sponsors, from DB Sound to Punta Gorda Rental, offered discounts. All other event staff worked for free, Dallenbach pointed out.
“The Block Party is a unique opportunity to see people you haven’t seen all year,” he said. “At the same time, you’re helping some 70 charities that raise funds running concession booths.”
Pezzin, who moved to Port Charlotte from southern California a year ago, was asked why he volunteered.
“Well, I love Punta Gorda,” he replied. “The thing I like about it is, it’s really down home. I love the unpretentiousness of it.”
That sentiment was echoed by 31-year-old Ryan Shamus of Fort Myers, lead singer with the acoustic-rock band Cover Art.
“There’s such a small-town feel — and you definitely don’t want to lose it,” he said.
Shamus’ band formed just some six months ago. One of its first gigs was the Block Party. So the band didn’t hesitate when asked to volunteer Saturday.
“We’re always happy to play on a big stage,” he said. “So we thought, ‘Heck yeah, we’ll play.’”
The event also included a bounce house area, a demonstration by the Charlotte County Sheriff’s K-9 unit, and a demonstration by the Kengo CMA Karate and Jujitsu School in Deep Creek.
“It gives the kids a chance to get out there and show what they’ve learned, and show other kids that they too can protect themselves,” said school Renchi (“polished instructor”) Ed Brizzolara.
Terry and Bonnie Yonker, who live nearby off Sullivan Street, said they attended to support the Block Party’s efforts to become self-sustaining.
“It’s helping those that are helping themselves,” Terry said. “How can you not like that?”