Every year on the first Saturday in December, hundreds of people gather in the banquet hall of the Immaculate Conception Center in Douglaston. Each comes bearing an unwrapped toy or other gift and enjoys a buffet, open bar, dancing and raffles.
But while this year’s event saw a record crowd, according to co-organizer Thomas Flood, there is also a record need.
Many of those who typically attend the gala, or at the very least offer their charity, were directly affected by Hurricane Sandy five weeks ago.
“There are so many of our brothers and sisters in need of the bare necessities,” Flood told the crowd. “There are so many for whom this Christmas will be very different.”
Flood said this year’s event helped 200 children. He also noted that some of those the gala, called Make a Difference Christmas, has helped are people affected by the hurricane, who in the past have been donors themselves.
“Sometimes the givers have to accept the gifts,” he said.
The annual charity dinner, sponsored by St. Mary Gate of Heaven parish in Ozone Park and Holy Child Jesus parish in Richmond Hill, collects gifts and raises money to help struggling families and children during the holidays. The concept began when Thomas Heaphy, a deacon at St. Mary Gate of Heaven, and his children started helping poor children at Christmas by bringing them toys. Heaphy’s daughter, Ann Turner, also daughter-in-law of Rep. Bob Turner (R-Middle Village), organizes the annual function.
The event started out at Austin’s Ale House in Kew Gardens, but moved to the Immaculate Conception Center — the Diocese of Brooklyn’s four-year seminary college — after it grew too large to fit in Austin’s event room. The restaurant still is involved with sponsoring the gala.
The five-and-a-half hour event included a full bar, cocktail hour, buffet and dancing, as well as raffle prizes and a silent auction.