Friday, November 25, 2005

Atlanta Readies for Toy Party and Womens Holiday Ball

(Link) Still wearing your "fat pants" while the swelling from yesterday's food fest subsides? Don't put away that party frock just yet. The season of feasting -- and giving -- is just getting started in Atlanta.

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LNewsEditor said...

JIC Post:
Southern Voice

Two of Atlanta’s biggest holiday parties are gearing up for the start of the annual giving season.

Toy Party began three years ago as a holiday house party and turned into a highly anticipated, well attended fund-raiser. The 2005 event is set for Dec. 4 and is poised to be the biggest in the party’s history, according to organizer Alex Wan.

The free cocktail party offers gay men and women complimentary food and drinks. Entry is a $10 toy or gift card earmarked for Atlanta-area children in need. Corporate and individual sponsors underwrite 100 percent of the overhead costs.

“It’s important to us to create an event where men and women can come together,” Wan says. “It’s socially and civically driving. It’s not a rights issue or a health issue, it’s a feel-good event.”

Last year, more than 1,600 attendees brought 3,000 toys and gift cards, and $50,000 in donations, which doubled proceeds from the 2003 event.

Wan says that approximately 400,000 children in Georgia are underprivileged, so the need for donations is high. This year’s added influx of Hurricane Katrina evacuees increased the need even more, he says.

Kathy Colbenson, executive director of CHRIS Kids, which operates Rainbow House, a residential facility for runaway and homeless gay youth, again signed on as a beneficiary to the event after last year’s success.

Colbenson estimates that CHRIS Kids received “thousands” of dollars in toys last year and says she is grateful for an event that helps during the difficult holiday time.

“The kids are really touched,” she says. “The younger ones, of course, are all about the toys, and the older ones understand that someone they didn’t even know cared enough to do something for them. That’s a huge gift independent of the gift itself.”

Colbenson says the toys that aren’t given to children are often used for a “wrapping party,” where adults and grandparents taking care of at-risk kids can be involved in selecting and wrapping gifts for people in need.

This year’s donations might show more than just support of underprivileged children, according to Wan. The upcoming legislative session may prove difficult for gay rights, he says, and hosting a charitable event could help others recognize the work gay men and lesbians are doing for other communities around the state.

“I suspect there will be some negative publicity around gays and children, and we just want to be an example of things that are very positive for children in the state,” Wan says. “We recognize a community that is in need, and we’ll rise to the occasion.”

This year’s Toy Party beneficiaries include Hillside, a treatment and education center for emotionally disturbed children; Jerusalem House, a living facility for people with AIDS; Sheltering Arms, early childhood education for children of all income levels; Tobie Grant Manor, a low-income housing development in Avondale Estates; and YouthPride, Atlanta’s gay youth organization.

CHILDREN AREN’T THE only ones benefiting from gay Atlanta’s holiday celebrations.

The annual Atlanta Women’s Holiday Ball, which takes place Dec. 2, launched in 1992 as “Good Friends for Good Causes.” It benefits the Atlanta Lesbian Health Initiative and Charis Circle, both lesbian-led non-profit organizations.

The event’s program includes a cash bar and light hors d’oeuvres, and according to organizer Shirley Adams, the largest dance floor she could find.

“It’s about four hours of non-stop dancing,” Adams says.

On top of the super-sized dance floor, the live music by the Class Act Band and DJ Silk will also be channeled to a second room with a second dance floor.

“There are so few gathering events and places in this community for women of this nature,” says Linda Ellis, executive director of ALHI. “So it’s important to both of our organizations, because the creation and sustaining of a women’s community are central to what we’re trying to do in our work as individual organizations and as women as a part of the community.”

Ellis says about 450 people attended last year’s Holiday Ball and raised $5,000 for each group.

“It has been around long enough that is has become a holiday activity for lots of women,” says Linda Bryant, founder of Charis Circle and co-owner of Charis Books & More. “It brings in women from all over the South and gives them an opportunity to see one another and to have a good time. It’s all about celebrating the love that we have for each other.”

Proceeds from the event go to general operating expenses at each beneficiary, the women say.