Fundraiser results in new car for community icon
By BOB KECSKEMETY
The community is coming together for a fundraiser to purchase a new car for Father Bill Collins, founder of the Poverello Center and Food Bank. The “Need Wheels” fundraiser will be held on Monday, Dec. 20 at 8 p.m. inside the Rainbow Lounge at Johnny’s Bar, 1116 West Broward Blvd., Fort Lauderdale.
Collins, who was hospitalized last month following a car accident, has been taking taxis or catching a ride from volunteers to the Poverello from his home in Lauderdale By The Sea. His vehicle was totaled in the accident, and the money from his insurance company was used to pay off his car loan and some of the medical expenses. A.J. Cross, general manager of Johnny’s, decided to bring the community together to help out Collins after learning of the accident on Nov. 30. Within 24 hours, Cross had received more than $8,000 in pledges, and 37 gay-owned businesses offered to help purchase the new car. The goal is to pay for the car, taxes, tags and registration.
“Everyone I’ve called has offered assistance — it’s been amazing,” said Cross. “Father Bill is so revered in the community. For most people, I didn’t even have to say why. As soon as I would say ‘Father Bill’ people responded with ‘whatever you need.’” In the mid ’80s, Collins, then a priest at St. Coleman’s Catholic Church, became chaplain in the Imperial Point Hospital chapel from St. Coleman’s Catholic Church in Fort Lauderdale. This is where he first learned about the victims of the early AIDS crisis and found out that many could not work to purchase money for food. Collins started using his pay from the church to purchase food and made deliveries from his car. When his pay was not enough to cover those stricken by the epidemic, he spent his entire pension fund to purchase more food. Soon, that too ran out and he got a second job teaching at Broward Community College.
Word quickly spread about his work with AIDS patients and by the late ’80s, acquaintances familiar with his work opened the Poverelo Food Bank in Pompano Beach and a thrift store to assist in purchasing food. A few years later, Poverello outgrew its Pompano Beach space and moved to its current location in Wilton Manors.
Now, 24 years later, Poverello is planning to move to it’s new location next year, which is currently being remodeled next to the Pride Center at Equality Park on Dixie Highway in Wilton Manors. Collins often credits Poverello’s volunteers for the center’s success in serving more than 12,000 clients through the years. Poverello currently has 135 volunteers on its roster and serves 4,000 clients.
To this day, Collins has refused to take any money for his work with the Poverello Center and lives off his salary from the church.
Cross also reached out to Michael Albetta of Maroone Ford and the Florida GLBT Democratic Caucus to see if he could get a new car for Collins at dealer cost. Albetta offered to purchase the car for Collins from Ford Motor Company at dealer cost, minus any rebates and using his Ford employee discount. Together they chose a 2010 Ford Focus, fully-equipped, for $18,500 and valued at $23,000. Albetta explained that he is permitted to use his discount twice a year but is forbidden to give the car away; however, he will sell the car to Collins for $1.
“It’s like the movie, ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’” said Albetta, “and we’re right in the middle of the holiday season. It overwhelmingly shows how much the community loves Father Bill.”
Some of the businesses involved in the benefit for Collins include: Bottoms & Tops; Boom; Island City Health & Fitness; Living Room; Sidelines; Java Boys; Georgie’s Alibi; Mark Magazine; Florida Agenda; Island City Eyecare; Chic Optique; Gaymart; Humpy’s Pizza; Ramrod; Copy This; Best Buy; City/County Credit Union; and the Wine Cellar Restaurant.
So far, scheduled entertainment for the benefit include Misty Eyez, Richard Cortez, Mia Sangria, Gemini Stone and an appearance by the Sisters of the Rising Sun. The fundraiser will also include a silent auction with sponsorship baskets, prizes and a 50/50 raffle. The performers will be donating all their tips received that evening to the benefit.
Johnny’s will be donating 100 percent of the door proceeds and 50 percent of all bar sales to Collins, and the valet company at Johnny’s will be turning over 50 percent of the money collected from valet to the new car fund. “My goal is to make this a huge event,” explained Cross. “I want people to walk into Johnny’s and see everybody who’s anybody there for Father Bill. If Father Bill would permit it, Poverello would buy him a car, but he [Collins] won’t do that. He has never taken a penny from Poverello and never will.”