T he 11th Annual Hope from Helen Surf Silent Auction on Friday, Dec. 4 once again drew a crowd at the Blockade Runner Beach Resort, where attendees circulated between food, festivities and the bidding room where hundreds of items were displayed.
One attendee was there not just to support the organization’s mission, or because she identifies with the charity’s namesake, but to also continue her tradition of buying a piece from artist Abby Spangel Perry.
“I’ve bought a piece of her art for the past four years,” said Heather Thornton, a breast cancer survivor. The organization is named for Helen Butler, who died after a prolonged fight against lung and breast cancer.
Thornton makes it a point to buy art from Perry each time she attends the silent auction. This year, she felt the pressure from other bidders.
“I had to bid six times,” she exclaimed, after finally winning the painting of an octopus. “I almost reached the max bid.”
Like many of the other attendees, Thornton was there to support a cause that raised at least $40,000 this year and has brought in nearly $680,000 in more than a decade of fundraising. Originally formed by Helen’s son Tony to bring in funding to help pay for her chemotherapy treatment, the organization now supports a variety of causes, including health, education, animal welfare, the environment, and individuals and families in need.
It also draws a variety of supporters to its annual fundraising event. They include Brandon Gay, of Wilmington, who had Tony Butler as a student-teacher when he was in fifth grade.
Gay said he comes to the event each year because of the number of surfing-related items up for sale. This year was no different, as there were several surfboards, paddle boards, wetsuits and other related items up for bid.
Gay won an Ian Balding surfboard for $580 that was valued at $750.
“You always get a good value here,” Gay said of the auction.
Gay also won three hours of home maid service, noting that as a bachelor, it was needed. He said winning bids during the auction required dedication to the online bidding system that attendees monitored from their mobile devices.
“I was watching my phone up to the last minute,” Gay said. “There’s a lot of bidding before the end.”
Another successful bidder was Dave Lemieux, who won a colorful Eavey surfboard with a glitter design.
“Have you ever seen a board like this?” Lemieux said, noting that he won the board at $595 and was bid up only once. “I’ve been looking for a board like this.”
Some of the most popular silent auction items were basketball tickets, including tickets to the North Carolina State vs. Duke University basketball game.
For winners Kaleb Wessell and Scott Davis, friends who teamed up to ensure they won the bid, it provided them their first chance to see a game at Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium. Again, the bid was about value, as a pair of tickets that were selling at $400 each from online ticket retailers went for $400 for the pair at auction.
“I’m a big Duke fan, so these are perfect,” Wessell said.
While most attendees were bidding, several said they weren’t concerned as much with winning as being a part of an event that has become a Wrightsville Beach institution.
“My strategy is to wait until the last minute and then hit it,” said John Gardner, who was bidding on a surfboard and yoga sessions. “The best part is that everybody from Wrightsville Beach is here. You get to see all of the cool cats.”
Patti Erkes, of Wilmington, said she has been coming to the event since it started 11 years ago and didn’t bring in near the crowds it does now. Butler estimated between 750 and 1,000 people attended this year. Lines for the free food provided by Tower 7 restaurant stretched out the door.
“It was much smaller at the beginning. You didn’t have to wait in line to eat,” said Erkes, who praised the contributions Butler is making to the Wrightsville Beach community. “Now it’s huge.”
At the close of the auction, $39,907 had been raised in proceeds, nearly reaching Butler’s goal of $40,000. However, Tower 7 was also collecting donations for the organization as its servers dished out tortillas full of beef, chicken and fish to guests.
For Butler, the event gives him a chance to connect with others who have been affected by cancer. On Friday night, he had a conversation with one bidder who had never been to the event, but had recently lost his wife to cancer after a three-year battle. He had heard about the auction and wanted to be a part of it, Butler said.
“You don’t know who comes here and for what reasons,” Tony Butler said. “When I hear the stories, it makes it worth it.”