SOMERSET, NJ – The Hugs for Brady Foundation may have thrown quite the party at The Palace at Somerset Park Saturday night, but the South Brunswick-based pediatric cancer charity wound up receiving an equally impressive gift at its seventh annual Winter Gala.
Chairman of the Somerset Patriots and owner of the Flemington Car and Truck Country Family of Dealerships, Steven Kalafer, made a substantial contribution during the reverse auction portion of the evening, in which Robert Milligan, Jr. solicited pledges, in varying amounts, from those in attendance.
The sizable gift, which Kalafer, who later accepted the charity's award as Humanitarian of the Year, asked not to publish, will allow the foundation to continue to fund more research for cures for childhood cancers.
“Why?” Kalafer said, when asked why he felt compelled to make such a generous donation. “Because I started with nothing and I won't die broke,” he said with a laugh.
Referencing a social responsibility, Kalafer said that the foundation deserves the support to continue doing its meaningful work.
“What they do is so important, and if the people that have the ability and the opportunity to help don't, then where are we?” he said. “We have to go forward together, we all have to do what we can.”
Local business owner Donna DePinto also made a donation during the reverse auction, pledging $1,000 to support the foundation's cause.
DePinto is the owner of D'Bella Salon in the Kendall Park section of South Brunswick, and is also this year's Mrs. Middlesex County. She will compete in May for this year's Mrs. New Jersey crown.
Teaming up for the second year in a row, morning radio host on 1450 WCTC AM radio, Bert Baron, served as the evening's Master of Ceremonies, along with 18-year-old Ewing's Sarcoma survivor Lilly Daneman.
In addition to the money raised through pledging, a silent auction, where attendees bid on items via a smart phone app, ran through much of the night and added to the total amount raised.
People pulled each other out on the dance floor, as bright and brassy music from the 10-piece Craig Scott Orchestra filled the air and guests were invited outside to view a glittering fireworks display. Fleece HFB blankets were distributed, as the crowd made its way outside and clustered around several warming stations, with more than one gentleman offering a jacket to a bare-shouldered lady.
Introduced by her husband Michael as “Brady's mom,” HFB co-founder Sherrie Wells recalled how surreal Brady's leukemia diagnosis was.
“Do you remember when your life changed forever?” Wells asked the silent room. “Do you remember when you were told that a loved one – your mom, your dad, your sister, your brother, your grandparent, a friend, a spouse, or maybe, more dreadfully, yourself or a beautiful, innocent child or grandchild was diagnosed with cancer? Do you remember telling yourself to breathe?”
The theme for this year's gala was “The Many Faces of Hugs for Brady,” and Wells echoed that sentiment when she told the crowd in a video presentation that HFB is not Brady's grandparents or even her husband or herself.
“It's you, and the over 500 active volunteers who give of yourselves so generously and selflessly that enabled Hugs for Brady to grow,” she said.
While being a night of fine dining, dancing and fun, Wells said that it was also a time to remember those who have lost their battles and celebrate those who have conquered their diseases.
“Let's share this moment, and let's share a hug,” she said, as everyone in attendance hugged someone close to them.
This year's Ellen Gambatese Volunteer of the Year Award was presented to the Domotor Family, which includes Tracey Domotor, Rich Domotor, Richie Domotor and Heather McClain. The family has been actively involved with HFB from the beginning, and each member has given of themselves in countless ways, according to the foundation.
Dr. Richard Drachtman accepted the Randy Siegel M.D. Medical Humanitarian of the Year Award on behalf of the pediatric hematology/oncology programs at the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey and the Bristol-Myers Squibb Children's Hospital at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital.
The Hugs for Brady Humanitarian of the Year Award was presented to the Somerset Patriots and Somerset Patriots Chairman Steven Kalafer this year, with the Patriots' mascot Sparkee adding a little levity to Kalafer's remarks.
The Palace at Somerset Park was an Angel sponsor of this year's event and both the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey and Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital were Gold sponsors. University Radiology was a Silver sponsor.
New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance Group was the Childhood Wonder sponsor, Simplicity Title was the Butterfly sponsor and the Flemington Car and Truck Country Family of Dealerships was the Legacy of Hope sponsor.
Cocktail hour was co-sponsored by Diamond Nation, Buffalo Wild Wings, HealthQuest and Wiss. The beverage sponsor was ProCure Proton Therapy Center and dessert was sponsored by Kendall Park and Bound Brook Allstate insurance agent David Basile and Investors Bank.
Valet service was sponsored by Innovative Manufacturing, Inc. and the coat check was sponsored by Jersey Physical Therapy.
Friends of the foundation include Princeton Insurance; Red Letter Affairs; Susan Stephens, LCSW; Jeff Schnier and Brady's Aunt Kellie, Aunt Marie and Grandma and Grandpa.
The Palace at Somerset Park is located at 333 Davidson Avenue.
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