The “Once Upon a Time in Manhattan” benefit at Marquee celebrated the ongoing achievements of the Ronald McDonald House, a not for profit center that provides housing and social programs for children with cancer who are outpatients in one of fourteen hospitals in New York City. Proceeds from ticket sales and a wonderfully eclectic silent auction were to go directly to the Ronald McDonald House. Stacie Karp Weisbrot, founder of Starlet Events and hostess of this evening’s amusement, appeared pleased at the outcome. I followed her through the crowd, attempting to mimic her frenetic dance among the Cipriani-bedecked silver platters and seated attendees. We wove through an elegant (and refreshing) consortium of patrons, many of the philanthropic social set that had supported the House over the years. Tonight, older women with glittering brooches, woolen shawls, delicate strings of pearls and black, silken pantsuits (!) waded through the younger set, a decided minority this evening; silent superiority of age and experience permeated a dance floor not used to such subdued glamour.
I allowed my initial prejudices to fade upon entering, aided and abetted by the vodka sponsor of the evening—Ketel One. This, my friends was the beginning of a wonderful moment that occurred between me and Ronald McDonald volunteer manager Helen Stafford, a beautiful older woman with red hair and a pink shawl, providing colorful refuge from the plethora of black, myself an offender in a charcoal dress, which surrounded her table.
Votive candles illuminated the McDonald House table, and, as I sat to speak with Helen Stafford I was provided a wonderful elucidation on an organization that has been around for decades, servicing the needs of more than 27,000 children with cancer, from over 70 different countries, for 35 years.
“The children come recommended from hospitals and social workers,” she explained, “and children come from all income brackets.” I wondered at this statement; wouldn’t lower income children be better served in this environment? A gentleman beside me, another House representative, described to me why wealthy children with cancer, whose parents could undoubtedly pay for exceptional at-home care, are admitted to the McDonald House. “The reason to stay,” he explained, “is because your 8 year-old child who has cancer, and whose hair is falling out, will be stared at, even in the lobby of the Waldorf Astoria. The Ronald McDonald House provides a sense of normalcy.”
The Ronald McDonald House is representative of the successful not-for-profit. Doubled efforts to maintain 2008 levels of funding have necessarily brought them this evening to uncharted territory. “We need to reach out to the young people!” Helen exclaimed. “They are our future volunteers and benefactors.”