SEA ISLE CITY, N.J. – Sarah Sholanver woke at 4 a.m. Wednesday, went to work until 11:30, then picked up three friends and diehard Eagles fans to make the drive south on the Garden State Parkway out of Toms River in central New Jersey.
Their destination was this little South Jersey beach town tucked between Ocean City and Avalon.
Their goal was to see Jason Kelce.
“I don’t think you’ll ever see another center in this organization better than Jason Kelce – ever,” said one of the friends, Tyler Casement, who was joined by his cousin Nick Hankinson and Shawn Kaliske on the hour-plus road trip. “I go to Sea Isle for vacation every year, but when I heard he was here I made this trip just to see him.”
And to support a very good cause, as Sholanver said.
One of their friends is on the autism spectrum.
Kelce was in Sea Isle City to help raise money for the Eagles Autism Foundation, serving as a guest bartender at Ocean Drive, better known as the OD and just a stone’s throw from the beach.
The event, which was put together just five days earlier by Ryan Hammond, the executive director of the Eagles Autism Foundation, was a big success, with $50,000 raised.
Jason and his wife Kylie, however, were so touched by the kindness of the fans who showed up, that the couple of two young daughters doubled that amount for a grand total of $100,000 raised on a steamy late afternoon.
SEE KELCE GET INTRODUCED AT THE FUNDRAISER:
“He always has his hand up to make a difference,” said Hammond, who has helped the foundation raise more than $10 million in three years and doing so in the midst of a global pandemic.
“Jason understands every dollar we raise goes back into the community. He sees the difference we’re making, and he wants to be a part of it. He’s been an incredible ambassador for us.”
The event began at 4 p.m., but the line formed two hours prior.
Swoop, the team’s mascot, and a couple of Eagles cheerleaders arrived via the back of a fire truck with sirens blaring shortly before the doors opened.
Patrons stood two and three deep around the OD's outside bar as Kelce served them drinks and plenty of Jell-O shots before taking a break after about an hour of sweating in the 90-degree heat.
“Those went quick,” said Kelce of the Jello shots.
With more experience at bouncing than bartending while in college at the University of Cincinnati more than 10 years ago, the customers took it easy on him in their drink requests.
“Vodka and soda or rum and Coke have been about the toughest ones,” he said. “Somebody ordered a margarita. I had to pass that off.”
All the while, Kelce was taking selfies with customers using their cell phones, signing No. 62 jerseys, and indulging in the occasional Jell-O shot or chugging a beer with a few customers who donated $100 to have that privilege.
Asked about his connection with the fans, the veteran center said: “I don’t really try to be anything that I’m not. I think fans, especially in Philadelphia, appreciate that. I think I just try and be as much of myself as I can be, not trying to get a big head or anything like that because I certainly don’t have one. I really just try and engage with the fans in as real a way as possible.”
Hammond asked Kelce about the fundraising idea when the two families were out together just last Friday at the arcade on the city’s promenade.
“If you can set something up, I’ll do it, but I’m leaving July 3,” said Hammond, who was on the phone later that night with the owner of the OD.
“I sent (Kelce) a text the next morning to tell him we were on, and he was like, ‘Oh my God, this is already done?’ He’s just rolled with it. He put himself out there and is showing (his teammates) how to use their celebrity to make a difference.”
Five days later, Kelce was tending bar for the cause.
The foundation is near and dear to the hearts of both Jason and Kylie, who works with children on the spectrum and special needs as an instructional aid.
“We’ve been invested in this for a while,” said Jason. “The fact that it could all come full circle and the Eagles really made a push for it, now we’re at this point, it’s awesome.
“It’s great. I was wondering how it was going to turn out. Wednesday, middle of the day, who’s going to show up? But there’s a lot of energy out there right now and we’re raising a lot of money, so it’s a lot of fun.”
Everyone certainly seemed to be enjoying themselves, making it well worth the trip for the four from Toms River and anywhere else.
Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s Eagle Maven and co-host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.