Two events benefit Catholic Charities

The programs of Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., in Lee County received tremendous support during two recent elegant evenings.

First up was the Venetian Ball on March 4, 2023, at St. Leo the Great Parish Hall in Bonita Springs. Proceeds from the evening benefit the programs of Lee, Glades, and Hendry counties, with particular focus on disaster recovery.

Just two days later, on March 6, The Beach Ball took place at The Gasparilla Inn Beach Club on Boca Grande. This event supports the Boca Grande Preschool, operated by Catholic Charities, sustained serious damage during Ian.

The Venetian Ball theme was “Resilience, Rebuilding, and Community” and served as an opportunity to come together as a community to support and partner with Catholic Charities to serve the many survivors of Hurricane Ian; to celebrate survival and helping of one’s neighbor. The event itself was directly impacted by Ian, as the original venue was damaged, forcing a date and location change. The Pastor and staff of St. Leo the Great stepped up to be the hosts for the event.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane praised the staff, volunteers, and benefactors of Catholic Charities for coming together in the wake of Hurricane Ian.

“Catholic Charities accomplished a tremendous amount and did a great deal of work,” Bishop Dewane said.

The 100 staff and hundreds of volunteers of Catholic Charities set up 10 distribution sites, with the help of the Parishes, where water, food and needed supplies were distributed to more than 110,000 people during the span of two months.

“That is an incredible achievement for a group of our size,” Eddie Gloria, Catholic Charities CEO said. “The work done each day is not always pretty or seen on the news, but the work makes a difference.”

Gloria explained how Catholic Charities is transitioning from emergency disaster relief to long-term disaster case management. Up to 40 case managers will work for years helping the many people in need. And the need is great, as within the 10-county Diocese of Venice territory more than 400,000 applications for FEMA assistance have been made.

“There is a lot of work ahead of us,” Gloria said.

The Frank K. Galeana Humanitarian Award was posthumously awarded to Louis J. Baumer II, the first development director of Catholic Charities, founder of the Boots & Bandanas event in Arcadia and the Samaritan Guild, who also served as executive director of the Catholic Charities Foundation and regular volunteer. Baumer passed away in November 2022. His widow was unable to attend the event, so the award was accepted by longtime friend Gerrie Weaver.

Meanwhile, The Beach Ball was an evening of dining and dancing under the stars. The Boca Grande Preschool is on the campus of Our Lady of Mercy Parish on Boca Grande. The roof of the school ripped apart, allowing rainwater to pour in and cause additional damage.

The preschool was founded in 1988 for island residents in need of childcare which grew into a formal preschool providing early education opportunities for children (12 months to pre-kindergarten) whose parents work or live on Gasparilla Island in the Boca Grande community. Father Jerome Carosella, Our Lady of Mercy Pastor, has been instrumental in the development and growth of the program through the years and offered his gratitude for the continuing and generous support of the people of Boca Grande. The guests of honor for The Beach Ball were Sarah and Will Farish.

If you would like to support Catholic Charites or learn about their outreach throughout the Diocese of Venice, please visit