'Wings For Wishes' At J. Timothy's A Fundraiser For Make-A-Wish

The challenge: To eat as many J. Timothy’s buffalo “dirt wings” as possible in six 6 minutes’ time. The goal: To raise more than $10,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

The second annual "Wings for Wishes”" event at the Plainville tavern is particularly significant for two competitors in the speed-eating fundraiser, as they’ve been past beneficiaries of Make-A-Wish. Aron Daniels, 33, of Naugatuck and Justin Rice, 22, of Trumbull both dealt with serious illnesses in their teens and were granted wishes by the foundation to make dreams come true.

Four years after his father was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, Daniels received the same diagnosis at age 15. The illness and intense chemotherapy kept him hospitalized long-term, causing him to miss most of his sophomore year in high school. But in 1996, when Daniels was 16, the foundation arranged for him to meet NBA star Michael Jordan: his “personal lifetime hero.”

"My family and I flew to Chicago, saw a game, spent some time at his restaurant,” Daniels said. “These are memories I treasure. … It really does boost your spirits. It’s something I still talk about. ... At that moment, it meant the world to me."

Today, Daniels, who has been in remission for 17 years, is a happily married father and passionate about craft beer and its culture. He shares that fervor through his website, CraftBrewGuy.com, and its related social media channels. That’s where he has connected with other like-minded beer lovers in Connecticut, both on- and offline. Daniels and four of his fellow enthusiasts came together to make up a competitive Wings for Wishes team, aptly named #CTBrewCrew.

Daniels’ teammate Jay Thibodeau, another craft beer aficionado who hosts a biweekly podcast, helped organize the team’s fundraising. Though the #CTBrewCrew lost in its first round of competition on Aug. 8, the team has raised more than $4,500 at press time, with collections continuing until Aug. 17.

The estimated cost to grant a wish is $10,000. J. Timothy’s raised more than $11,500 in 2012, which helped send a 10-year-old Connecticut boy to Disneyland through the foundation.

“It’s really kind of a giveback [for] us, to the people who have made us successful over the years. And what better charity than doing it for a kid?” said Greg Gardner, J. Timothy’s general manager.

As part of team Domination, Rice plans to give back to the foundation that sent him on a weeklong deep-sea fishing trip in the Florida Keys. Born with congenital heart disease, “from the day I was born, I was in and out of surgery,” he said.

He underwent pacemaker surgery at age 10, and a heart infection put him in the hospital for a month during his freshman year of high school. A nurse contacted Make-A-Wish on his behalf, unbeknownst to his family. “It was a complete surprise. I didn’t know that I qualified at all,” he said.

In 2006, the foundation sent him and his family on the trip, which included a stay in a hotel and two days of private charter fishing. There, Rice befriended a family with Connecticut roots who volunteers for the foundation, a relationship he still enjoys to this day.

Rice and his team, a group of hometown and college friends, are competing for the first time in Wings for Wishes. “I owe Make a Wish a lot, in my opinion. I’d love to give back as much as I could,” he said. “What they do for kids, it’s amazing.”

Five-person teams will compete in three pre-qualifying events, attempting to advance to the finals on Aug. 22. The first four members will eat four wings as quickly as they can, and the “anchor” will eat as many wings as possible with the time remaining. The team that raises the most money gets an automatic berth to the finals as a “wild card.”

Teams are encouraged to dress up for the competition. The #CTBrewCrew arrived at their Aug. 8 event in costumed homage to New England Brewing Company in Woodbridge, with each member choosing a character from the brewery’s iconic can designs.

Daniels says he’s thrilled that his interaction with the local craft beer community has led to charitable giving.

“It definitely is a strong community of people, that through these various events, we’ve established relationships where we can make things like this happen, actually make an impact,” he said.

Team donation pages can be found online here.


>>Wings for Wishes continues Aug. 14 and Aug. 15 at J. Timothy’s, 143 New Britain Ave., Plainville. The events are open to the public with a $10 donation. The finals will be held Aug. 22. More information: 860-747-6813 and jtwingsforwishes.com

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