EAST ELMHURST, NY — Despite still reeling from the effects of Super Storm Sandy, which devastated much of the north east United States coast in early November, more than 200 expatriate Jamaicans filled the ballroom at the LaGuardia Plaza Hotel here on Saturday to raise funds for needy children in the island.
"I thought about postponing the function, but the patrons said no, the kids are expecting [it] and we didn't want to disappoint the kids because they look forward to the assistance," Gary Williams told the Jamaica Observer after the gala.
"We had no light, no power, no Internet. Some of our patrons lost homes, got displaced, so Sandy was a big, big hiccup, but I'm pleased with how people came out tonight," he added.
Williams is founder and chairman of Children of Jamaica Outreach (COJO), which started in 1994 with the expressed intention of supporting underserved kids in his native Jamaica and in his present community of Queen's, New York. He himself was affected by Sandy as "up to a week ago" he had no electricity, which affected planning, but the organisers persevered.
Their dedication was not lost on Consul General of York Herman LaMont who remarked: "In these difficult economic times, special thanks and recognition are due to the founder and chairman, executive members and supporters of COJO. Therefore, on behalf of the Government and people of Jamaica, I unhesitatingly convey our gratitude and encouragement to you for continued assistance to various children's charities both in the United States and Jamaica."
Saturday's fund-raising gala was COJO's 18th annual. It raised funds via ticket sales, a silent auction and a raffle, with the goal being to earn between US$15,000 and US$20,000. Proceeds will be donated in May next year to children's homes in Jamaica, while a separate raffle, expected to run from January to May, will finance tertiary scholarships.
The gala — which was attended by some noted and influential Jamaicans, including the consul general and Gail Moaney, managing partner/director at advertising agency Finn Partners — honoured five New York-based Jamaicans for their own work in raising funds for the disadvantaged in Jamaica and the US. They were Vincent Hosang and his daughter Sabrina, owners and operators of Caribbean Food Delights; Winston Wellington, owner of Winthrop Car and Limousine Service; Victoria Mitchell, development administration manager at ORT America; and Colin Barrett, D&G brand manager and Caribbean market manager of Iberia Foods.
Caribbean Food Delights bagged the Pioneer Service Award, Wellington took the distinguished service award, while Mitchell was awarded for community service. Barrett, who was absent on Saturday was recognised for committed partner award.
In her capacity as a former COJO awardee, director general in the ministry of Tourism and Entertainment Carrole Guntley hailed the association for proving that "the spirit of volunteerism is very much alive".
"I'm very proud to be associated with the work of this organisation," she said.
"We can never do enough; we have so much work there... sometimes it's not just the money, it's the time, it's the effort," she explained.
Last year, COJO raised over US$20,000 from the gala, which is used to support Clifton Boys' Home in Westmoreland and Granville Place of Safety for Girls in Trelawny. In addition to that, tuition scholarships and laptop computers were given to students from Northern Caribbean University, Moneague Teachers' College, Bethlehem Moravian College, and LaGuardia Community College in Queens.