If only raising money was as painless as it seemed at the Scleroderma Research Foundation's benefit Monday night.
A six-course gourmet dinner, performances from top-notch comedians and a brief auction made giving money as easy as taking it. The event, which drew about 150 people to City Restaurant, raised more than $150,000 for this new foundation and little-known disease.
A stuffy charity benefit this was not. With a young, hip crowd, the trendy restaurant setting and hot young comedians, the evening had the atmosphere of a raucous party.
Scleroderma is a degenerative disease that causes a hardening of the skin and connective tissues, eventually affecting the internal organs. Sharon Monsky was diagnosed with the disease three years ago, and, as part of her vow to fight it, started the Scleroderma Research Foundation to raise funds and awareness.
A former world-class figure skater and management consultant from Mill Valley, Monsky, 34, dropped her business career when her health deteriorated. With friends and family she began the foundation 14 months ago. In its first year it raised $300,000. Monday night's event pulled in $35,000 from dinner tickets and about $130,000 from contributions and auctioned items.
"Something had to be done," Monsky said. "I felt that instead of being at home and beginning to deteriorate with the disease, I was going to make an impact. I took the skills I had and decided the only way to do this was to start a real business."
Monsky and her husband, Mark Scher, formed a board of directors with dedicated friends, many of whom flew down from the Bay Area for the event (that accounted for the large number of men in serious dark-gray suits).
Susan Feniger is another of Monsky's friends from pre-college days and at Pitzer College. Feniger is co-owner (with Mary Sue Milliken) of City Restaurant and not only donated the food and staff for the evening, but helped set up similar dinners in five cities across the country.
"She has the most incredible spirit," Feniger said. She was wearing her apron as she mingled with the crowd during cocktails. "Her way of dealing with the disease was to pull together an organization that could stay strong and raise money."
The celebrity contingent included Jeff Goldblum, Ed Asner, Linda Gray, Deborah Shelton, Dweezil Zappa, Brenda Vaccaro and Craig T. Nelson. Bay Area-ites included Sandy and Scott Baker and Nancy and Richard Robbins. Leo Durocher autographed three baseballs for the auction, then donated his tie, which went for $2,500.
Robin Williams led off the comedy segment, followed by Judy Tenuta, Paul Provenza and juggling comedians the Raspyni Brothers (Dan Holtzman and Barry Friedman). Richard Belzer was the emcee and Mitchel Lawrence conducted a hilarious auction.
But the seriousness of the event was never forgotten. Said Richard Robbins, "We hope to be out of business in three years."