By Mimi O'Connor Posted January 26, 2009, 4:27 PM EST
Yesterday brought thousands of gift and home industry professionals to the Javits Center for the opening of the five-day New York International Gift Fair, and as tradition dictated, the first evening of the show found several hundred of them attending the annual Gift for Life benefit. Established in 1992, the fund-raiser unites the gift and home industry in the fight against AIDS, and this year the event featured at least two significant changes from previous bashes.
Sunday's Gift for Life fund-raiser at La.venue introduced Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS as the new, exclusive beneficiary of the nonprofit. And in a departure that wasn't unrelated to Diffa's debut, organizers revamped the format of the event significantly, abandoning the more staid sit-down dinner and speakers format of previous years in favor of a casual casino night.
Diffa special events associate Julia Dexter explained the new festive theme was devised, in part, to ensure her organization made a positive impression in its new role of beneficiary. “We wanted to show them a good time,” she said. “The casino is such a great format for having fun and raising money.” But arriving at the casino concept proved to be one of the most difficult aspects of planning the night for Dexter, who worked on the event for five months. “The hardest part, since it is a new relationship, was tailoring the event to a crowd we didn't necessarily know well,” she said. (The solution: lots of communication with the Gift for Life board members.)
Designed and produced by EventCo, the decor incorporated all of the elements one would expect from a casino night, such as black jack, roulette, and craps tables manned by experienced dealers, as well as flashy touches that included sparkly showgirls, giant flying dice suspended from the ceiling, oversize playing cards, and (to the delight of some guests, and the horror of others), a shirtless male snake handler wrapped in an enormous boa constrictor. Caterer Canard supplied a seemingly endless supply of hors d'oeuvres such as Peking duck, tuna tartare, and spring rolls, as well as a panini station and buffets of fruit, cheese, and crudités.
Like many people these days, organizers felt the impact of the economy when planning the event. “We had a projected budget, and things didn't come through on the revenue side,” said Dexter. “Luckily, a lot of the materials were donated. Our vendors are friends to our cause. ... We had a lot of people really come through for us.”
Guests hailing from all over the country offered positive reviews of the benefit's format change, citing better opportunities to mingle and a more relaxed atmosphere. “I'm from Colorado,” said Jannetta Litzman of Denver. “So anything informal is good for me.”