Hot Cars and Warm Hearts in Naples, from FRANK Magazine

For the past few years, I’ve been writing for FRANK, Denison Yachting’s magazine aimed at its upscale clientele. The current issue is running a I penned about the Ferrari Club of Naples, Florida and its four-day, high-end extravaganza called the Naples Automotive Experience. Each year the event generates more than $1 million to St. Matthew’s House, a local non-profit that helps the homeless, the hungry and the addicted in Naples. A+A is pleased to post the story here today:

Only in Naples, Fla., can Ferraris and the homeless travel hand-in-hand down Fifth Avenue.

That’s because the two have a mutually beneficial relationship.

Every year in early February, the Ferrari Club of Naples hosts a four-day, ultra-high-end extravaganza called the Naples Automotive Experience.

And every year St. Matthew’s House, the Naples-based non-profit that helps the homeless, the hungry and the addicted, supplies 400 volunteers to help navigate the weekend event.

When it’s all said and done, the local Ferrari Club donates more than $1 million in event-generated proceeds directly to St. Matthew’s.

The Naples Club is the largest chapter in the Ferrari Club of America. “We’re 1,100 members,” says Tom O’Riordan, president of the Naples Club. “That’s 16 percent of a total 7,100 members nationwide.”

Its first event in 2004 attracted 20 cars and raised $200. This year, 750 cars were on display at Cars on Fifth, the weekend’s signature event, for 30,000 people to see. “It’s the biggest one-day event in Naples,” he says. “It’s big time.”

The Naples Automotive Experience is not limited to Ferraris. The local Corvette Club, with 650 members, also participates – as does the Porsche Club, the Jaguar Club, the Lamborghini Club, the British Car Club, the Gull-Wing Club and the Muscle-Car Club. Maseratis and Alfa Romeos are also on hand.

Last year, the world’s fastest electric vehicle – the $2.1 million Rimac Nevera from Croatia – made its debut here. And this year, Shelby America launched the Shelby Series 2, its first totally new car in 60 years. “We have about 30 owners of Shelby Cobras here,” says Dennis Flint, vice president of the Naples club.

The Shelby Series 2 was introduced at a sold-out Jet Port Reception at Naples Airport on Thursday night. There, rare and exotic cars were sprinkled among sleek and superfast private jets and helicopters. About 700 people attended the event.

On Friday, the Saratoga Automobile Museum in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. presented an auction of exotic cars like Lamborghinis, Jags and classic Ferraris. “The museum helps the organizers find cars, handle consignments and put cars in the auction,” O’Riordan says.

But it’s the Cars on Fifth Concourse that’s the weekend’s big attraction. It stretches across Naples’ Fifth Avenue for six blocks, then spills into side streets. Each club is allotted a certain number of slots to display its vehicles. “Corvette gets 57 and fills every spot, Porsche has 97 that filled in 36 hours and Ferrari has 150,” he says.

A VIP area called the Scuderia – that’s Stable in Italian – displayed classics like Sterling Moss’s Ferrari 250 GTO, with a full bar and all that attendees could eat. Tickets were $250 each, and were limited to 500. “Then there’s the after-show party,” he says. “On Sunday there’s the Super Car Rally that starts in Naples and takes a route to Labelle in South-Central Florida – it takes two hours to drive it.”

The four-day event is a rousing success not just because of the cars and the clubs, but because of the volunteers from St. Matthew’s House who help with organizing, with getting thousands of people in and out of venues – and with cleanup. “I don’t think we could put on a car show without them,” Flint says.

St. Matthew’s started as a soup kitchen with bible study 35 years ago. Today it operates on a $50 million budget, with food assistance programs, eight thrift stores and homeless shelters for men and women. It also runs a 12-month recovery program.

“For the first eight or nine months, they get their brains healed, and then they work in social enterprises like a thrift store, a hospitality venue or a warehouse,” say Steve Brooder, CEO at St. Matthew’s House. “We move people from being in crisis to being a contributor.”

Besides the generous donation from the Ferrari Club, St. Matthew’s receives tremendous positive feedback from the event. “It’s a wonderful charity,” Flint says. “You don’t see homeless people here living in the streets, it serves 120 people a night – and it has the only women’s shelter in town.”

And sure, the Naples Automotive Experience might place in the top five car shows nationally, but it’s the volunteers from St. Matthew’s who help keep it there.

For more, go here.