Saturday night marked the 14th Annual Hattie’s Mardi Gras Benefit and with record breaking attendance and fundraising numbers, this much buzzed about party seems to be unstoppable. This year’s beneficiary was Jake’s Help From Heaven, a Saratoga Springs based non-profit founded by Heather and Brian Straughter in memory of their son Jake. JHFH is dedicated to helping individuals with multiple medical challenges and disabilities through a wide range of platforms, including grants & financial assistance, equipment purchases and non-ancillary medical support.
The evening’s Co-Chairs, Beth Alexander and Heather Straughter looked stunning as they hosted a crowd of almost 600 people, Beth wearing a sparkling Theia gown and Heather in a bright red Daniel Mozzes cocktail dress. It was a family affair as Heather’s parents Susana and Michael Hoffman were the event’s Honorary Co-Chairs, Susana looking chic in black and wearing a pair of sparkling earrings that she had customized herself with tiny red cardinals, an image that has come to symbolize their grandson Jake. The crowd poured into the Canfield Casino which was transformed into a Mardi Gras paradise by the talented Michael Panza and his team at Fine Affairs and Judy and Pember from Rain or Shine Tent Company. Guests indulged in scrumptious comfort food from Hattie’s including hush puppies, deviled eggs, jambalaya & their signature fried chicken.
On hand supporting Hattie’s and JHFH were Tom and Kristie Roohan, Suzanne and Greg Grande, Jeff and Heath Ames, Gary Dake, Steve Bouchey, Colleen and Skip Carlson, Julie and Scott Johnson, Allison and David Meyers as well as several of the JHFH families. It was also impossible not to notice the incredible amount of community support on hand for the evening with dozens of non-profits represented, including volunteers from Saratoga Sponsor-A-Scholar and Saratoga Bridges, as well as Marcia White, Amy Raimo, Jim Letts and others whose organizations have benefitted from the event.
Dan Russell, Pinnacle Vodka and The Saratoga Social sponsored the party’s complimentary beverage which took the form of ‘Jake’s Candy Bar’ and featured a variety of candy flavored vodka samples, quite popular with the big easy loving crowd. Benita Zahn was the perfect Mistress of Ceremonies but when Beth and Jasper Alexander took the stage to welcome the crowd, it was clear from the emotion in Beth’s voice that this Mardi Gras in particular was a special one. She described Jake Straughter and her admiration for the Straughter and Hoffman families, their strength, dignity and the significance of using Jake’s legacy as a means to help so many people. Spotted in the audience were JHFH Board Members Rachel Mitchell and Marc Brynczka, as well as Natalie Sillery and Rick Partyka, Susan and Jeff Halstead, Melissa Zieker, Kate and Drew Jarosh, Christianne Smith and Carole and Mark Moreau.
Meanwhile, guests circulated around the well bid on silent auction table, which included goodies such as a margarita party at Cantina Restaurant snatched up by Jackie Szurek, a chef’s wine dinner at The Brook Tavern won by Wendy Lawrence and a ‘last chance’ cooking class taught by Jasper Alexander that Michael Hoffman will be enjoying. Lisa Vitiello took home a new Gas Bijoux cuff and Michele Funiciello was already thinking about the summer season, winning two tickets to Saratoga Bridge’s White Party in July as was Terry White who took home a round at Saratoga National. Guests also had the opportunity to buy a raffle ticket for a shiny new Toyota Corola which had made its debut outside the venue, with a winner to be picked at the JHFH 5th Annual Family Fun Day this Spring. Things kicked into high gear as Garland Nelson and Soul Session had everyone on the dance floor, with the music and crowd in such high spirits that there was even a rare sighting of Michael Panza kicking up his heels. If they weren’t dancing, guests were found flocking to the Heather Bohm-Tallman photo booth to have their pictures snapped with beads, masks and all the Mardi Gras trimmings.
Guests Christine and Brian Joyce, Carly Connors and Dan Ritopecki, Alessandra Bange-Hall, Beverly Benfer and Amy Snyder kept the party going while we caught up with the beaming Co-Chairs. “Brian and I could not be happier with our entire experience as Mardi Gras recipients. From the moment Beth let us know that we were selected through tonight we were so blessed to be a part of of it all. The support from the planning committee, the community and the entire Hattie’s family has been so wonderful. We are thrilled at what Jake’s Help From Heaven will be able to do for our families and future applicants.” said Heather, with Beth adding, “We created this party to benefit non-profits in the Saratoga area and tonight when I see organizations like Saratoga Bridges, NYSARC Inc, Saratoga Sponsor-A-Scholar, SPAC, Saratoga Hospital, Franklin Community Center, the YMCA and future beneficiary Café Lenna all here making this year a success, it is really heart warming. There are familiar faces from all of these organizations at check in, in the coat room, selling raffle tickets, as sponsors and on the silent auction table which is a tremendous reflection of our strong community and how lucky we are to be here. I am so proud of us all! “ And with good reason, as the Hattie’s Mardi Gras to date has raised over $500,000 for the Saratoga community with Saturday’s event setting the record, raising over $100,000.