After years of a lunchtime fundraiser, St. Jude moved its Fort Worth benefit to the evening hours for 2019. The inaugural Celebration at Sundown brought more than 200 local guests and supporters of the renowned Memphis children's research hospital to the Ashton Depot on an unseasonably chilly spring night, March 30.
Once they stepped inside, they were warmed by images of smiling children helped by St. Jude — and opportunities to give generously in many ways. Hydrangea arrangements filled the tables, and each place was set with a dessert topped by a birthday candle. Clearly, this was going to be a celebratory night.
Guests sipped the signature TX Whiskey Smash cocktail and nibbled on passed hors d'oeuvres, such as chipotle honey shrimp on crispy plantain and twice-baked fingerling potatoes, all catered by Ashton Depot's executive chef Cesar Gallegos.
Attendees perused dozens of fabulous silent auction items — local retail and restaurant gift certificates, fashion accessories, jewelry, collectibles, and even a chance to attend one of Dirk Nowitzki's final games with the Dallas Mavericks. Once bids were placed, they could be checked and refreshed all night on cellphones.
When it was time to be seated for dinner, event chair Amanda Osterkamp welcomed guests, saying, "Tonight, we're celebrating birthdays." She introduced her nephew and honorary chair Tyler Bates, a 12-year-old who, when he was 2 years old, was admitted to St. Jude for successful cancer treatment. While he was there, he celebrated his third birthday. But that's not the only time he felt special at St. Jude, he said.
"Whenever I go back to St. Jude for my checkups, we go to visit my favorite nurse there, Kendra, and she'll either give me cotton candy or a special treat," he said to the audience before leading them in singing "Happy Birthday" to the kids of St. Jude.
Then members of the hilarious Fort Worth comedy troupe Four Day Weekend took over as emcees, playing with the audience and keeping them laughing throughout the evening.
After a delectable braised shortrib dinner, St. Jude Regional Executive Director Kathy Fairbanks outlined the mission of the organization with passion. "St. Jude is dedicated to one goal. Our goal is finding cures and saving children," she said.
"Every year we have about 8,500 kids walk through the door. What is equally staggering to that number is that each of those kids are there under research protocols that will save, literally, thousands of children around the world. Our laboratories may not be in every community, but our discoveries are."
Patients of St. Jude and their families do not receive a bill for medical care. To demonstrate that significance, guests each received a white envelope holding an "invoice" for childhood cancer treatment totaling $425,000. They were asked to tear it up.
Fairbanks then interviewed a family from Cleburne, the Nelsons, about their harrowing journey to St. Jude with young son Brody last year. "We heard the word 'hospice,'" Brody's dad, Todd, said. "As parents, you don't really accept that."
With his brain tumor now gone, Brody — officially the star of the night — announced, "They helped me kick cancer's butt."
Auctioneer Jenny Heal took the stage to sell several fabulous luxury items, including a hunting extravaganza at Quail Ridge Ranch, a trip to the I Heart Country Music Festival, and a chance to play in the Danny Thomas golf tournament. A "live give" initiative allowed patrons to raise their paddles one last time, in amounts from $10,000 to $100.
The Four Day Weekend comedians, with Brody's help, announced that the fundraising portion had just raised $205,000. In all, the "birthday party" was able to gift over $220,000 for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
As at any fun party, guests took home goodie bags filled with cool swag and were sent home with a cookie from Sweet Sammies — a sweet ending to a sweet celebration.
St. Jude patrons, friends, and committee members in attendance included Lisa Looney, Mary Bates, Jennifer Bates, Emily Bates, Bruce Wright, Jennifer Wright, Bret Osterkamp, Jenya Felder, Jacob Smith, Kaley Smith, Colin Strawn, Candace Strawn, Heather Pittman, Rhonda Rich, Sydney McCurdy, Jennifer Watkins, Jenni Jones, TK Dorsey, Sharon Fulgham, Stacy Hamilton, Kelly Mooring, Camee Ponder, and Caroline Kirkpatrick.