- What determines the chic of a charity? What is it that brings out the celebrities? Apparently having one of the most recognizable names and symbols in the world isn't quite enough. Nor is being one of the most respected and oldest disaster relief organizations in the country.
Author Gregory Speck with his autographed first edition donation of "Hollywood Royalty."
It is a Catch 22, you need to have the chic to get the celebrities and you need the celebrities to get the crowds. What a shame, as the Suffolk County Chapter of the American Red Cross
threw a heck of a fundraiser on Aug. 29 in Sag Harbor with essentially no celebrity support and a less than stellar turnout because of it.
The event was dubbed "A Splash of Red on the Bay" and the B. Smith
's Restaurant setting was ideal. The staff was fabulous as always, the food superb, and the Caribbean music by Vivian and the Merry Makers was perfect for a harborside fete. There were lots of silent auction items to choose from and the staff and volunteers who worked the event could not be any more gracious as hosts. Unfortunately, what this event at B. Smith's needed more than anything else was B. Smith herself or some other celebrity of her caliber.
Perhaps if the Suffolk County Chapter headquarters were on Jobs Lane
in Southampton or Pantigo Road in East Hampton instead of Horseblock Road in Yaphank this very worthy organization would get the Hampton A-listers onboard. Sadly, it may actually take an East End hurricane flooding the basements of the mansions on Georgica
Pond or Gin Lane to get them to throw their support behind what will probably be the very first organization they will see at their door offering help during a disaster of that nature.
Red Cross staffer Liz Barker with Erik Friedman.
On the subject of hurricane or other natural disaster relief, the American Red Cross of Suffolk County is more than ready in quiet ways that most of us are not even aware. As Executive Director Diane Amarosa
explained, "In Suffolk County we bought 25 Connex boxes, which are more or less trailers without wheels and we have them placed at 25 strategic locations from Farmingdale all the way out to the Hamptons. Each one is filled with 1,000 cots, 2,000 blankets and everything else down to paper plates that we would need to open up a shelter.
"The schools where we dropped the boxes are already prepared. We have an agreement in place with Coca-Cola to deliver water to the boxes for the first three days of any disaster. We also have an agreement in place with a heater meal company. We have agreements in place with caterers as well, but if that could not be sustained after three days the heater meals would be there to feed the victims we serve. We are in a joint agreement with Nassau County to train every cadet at the Merchant Marine Academy in disaster response. So at any given time we have at the counties' disposal the help of 800 cadets and they have already been trained."
Although the county has lucked out in being missed by two potential hurricanes this season already, Amarosa admits, "It is inevitable. Mother Nature will smile on you for only so long." Historically, the Red Cross is most frequently associated with natural disasters; however, they are here for residents 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. They have 10 locations in the county, two of which are senior citizen nutrition centers. They provide emergency relief response for events from single family house fires to county-wide natural disasters like Hurricane Bob of 1991 and the 1995 Sunrise Wildfires.
Attendees gather in support of the Suffolk County Chapter of the American Red Cross at B. Smith's Restaurant in Sag Harbor.
Among the Red Cross' most important work is its official federal designation as the civilian conduit and support system for the members of our Armed Forces and their families. For example, when a service man or woman gives their life in the supreme sacrifice, it is the Red Cross that directly supports and sees the family through the tragedy. Surprising to all may be the fact that the Red Cross receives no federal funding and relies almost entirely on private donations, United Way allocations and the occasional state special project grants.
It is an admittedly tough economy for even the chicest charities, although many of the East End's tonier events are admitting to turnouts even better than last year's attendance. Amarosa recognized the poor turnout at the evening's event and offered an expected explanation, "Not as good as we had anticipated. We don't seem to have the ability to draw well known support to our committees. Our board members are wonderful, devoted supporters, but they are working class people and our headquarters are in Yaphank. For some reason we don't get the celebrity support. Russell Simmons
showed up last year, but we need someone who will commit to the event, someone whose name we can put on the invitation."
Glenn and Jinny Simon with Gary DePersia.
In 2006, the summer after Hurricane Katrina, the groundswell of support lent itself to a highly publicized and well attended fundraiser at the Southampton home of Todd
and Carol Rome
which had attendees the likes of Tommy Hilfiger
and Ahmad Rashad
, among others. Based on this year's economy the costs of tents, tables and chairs, outside caterers and insurance moved Amarosa to choose an established venue like B. Smith's for fear she would lose money on an off premise event. Unfortunately, the media whirlwind that originally drove interest to the work of the American Red Cross locally seems to have long been forgotten and so too the high profile support for this seminal American charity has receded like the waters that originally broke the New Orleans levies.
Although the rich and famous may not have been in attendance in person nor the national corporate companies in sponsorship, many local businesses and professionals lent their support to this essential local service organization. Among them was highly successful local realtor Gary DePersia
of the Corcoran Group
, "This is my fourth year at the Red Cross Ball, the last two years it was held at one of my listings that has since sold. I am a big supporter. I love coming here, it is a great event."
Southampton locals in support of the Red Cross Robin Eiro, Richard Udice, Mike and Mary Rufino and Rich Wilkie.
of Southampton heralded the work of the Red Cross and lamented the lack of attendance, "Is there a better organization than the Red Cross? It's grassroots, it helps people that actually need it. There is no better organization, it is the bottom line. The Red Cross is a basic help group and it is shameful that more people don't show up for these events."
Author of "Hollywood Royalty," native Virginian Gregory Speck
arrived with his donation of an autographed first edition, "Did you know that I think the Red Cross has the most beautiful building in Washington. It is right next door to the Daughters of the American Revolution, two cornerstones of our American civilization."
Architectural commentary aside, Speck was right about the Red Cross being a cornerstone of our American civilization. Founded by Clara Barton
and others after the horrors of the Civil War, the American Red Cross has been there during our country's most perilous moments and devastating disasters, through both war and peace. Its volunteers have risked much, sometimes their lives, in support of their neighbors in crisis. They provide shelter for the homeless, sustenance for the famished, sandbags against the flood and hope for those who might otherwise lose all hope. This coming year, let us all, celebrity and non-celebrity alike, return it in kind. The American Red Cross, it is so much more than chic and trendy, it is essential.
For more information go to www.suffolkcounty.redcross.org.
Frequently mistaken for the "Most Interesting Man in the World" from the Dos Equis commercials and the iconic gray-bearded Sean Connery, DMH is the Senior Contributing Editor at Hamptons.com. www.hamptons.com