By John D. Adams
“Remember, Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things; and no good thing ever dies.” — The Shawshank Redemption
Tony Orlando exploded onto the stage at Artis — Naples to perform an unannounced set of his greatest hits including, “Tie a Yellow Ribbon,” during this year’s Celebrity Martini Glass Auction (CMGA). The stunned audience had been supplied with small, yellow ribbon banners presumably to excite interest in Mr. Orlando’s signed glass, which was to be auctioned later in the evening. But now, the speechless audience burst into shouts and applause, their tiny streamers flail wildly. That was just one of many memorable moments over the past nine years that continues to propel the annual CMGAs into the hottest philanthropic events, keeping donors coming in enthusiastic droves while contributing record dollars.
“We really never know who may appear and this was so amazing,” began Brenda Melton, founder and organizer of the CMGA. “But more than that. It is the incredible, generous spirit of our donors. Our community comes together in a way that is so philanthropist and so eager to support us. When I reach out to sponsors, when I reach out to donors, they really are there for us.”
It was in this spirit that Melton themed this year’s event “Hope Lives Here,” complete with a stunning special martini glass of its own, commemorating the event. The primary mission of the CMGAs (namely, to lend financial assistance to qualified, local veteran’s assistance organizations) has always been at the forefront of Melton’s efforts. It is an opportunity join in the revelry of a thriving community brought together by a mutual desire to give back to those men and women who have honorably served in our country’s military services.
“Our 2018 event was the most successful event that we’ve ever had. We raised $1.1 million … I was in shock. I could barely get out of my seat. I was so amazed at how wonderfully the event had turned out. And I was breathless with the thought of just how generous our donors really are. Of course, that’s a lot of pressure for next year,” she laughed.
In keeping with this year’s theme of community, Melton decided to forego the previous practice of honoring a specific veteran. “I wanted to celebrate all of our servicemen and women,” she said. “We had many veterans there young to old; we had WW II veterans and veterans just coming back from war.”
There is a special energy level at the CMGAs. Donors and guests find themselves spontaneously leaping onto the dais to lend support. “I know that sounds crazy,” laughed Melton. “This year in the audience was John Lodge from The Moody Blues, and Cliff Williams from AC/DC. At one point they jumped up to auction off two jam sessions with them! Out of the blue! This is the enthusiasm that is generated. And when public figures, who are there as private citizens, jump up and offer their talents to aid in our fundraising efforts, well, there really isn’t anything else like it. Everyone is there because they have a desire to help others.” Melton grows quiet. “The CMGAs don’t belong to just me anymore … it is something that the community has embraced. The love and support are overwhelming.”
Of course, we must mention the exquisite namesakes of the CMGAs — the martini glasses. Once again, Melton has outdone herself in pairing autographed glasses with renowned artists to perfectly exemplify the auction’s sole purpose — making a difference through the power of art.
2018 Hope Lives Here Community Glass: “I reached out to one of my favorite artists, Michele Kortwabi Wilk. In my mind I saw all of these people arm in arm … The community has been so good to me, I want these people connected. Then I reached out to the community to offer items with the glass. To my astonishment, we received almost $25,000 worth of donated trips and gifts.” The glass auctioned for $40,000.
Barbara Eden: Melton recalled several years ago, when jewelry artist William Boyajian, owner of Port Royal Jewelers, “drove hours and hours to meet Barbara Eden. He really just loved her. And she was gracious enough to sign the martini glass. He created this exquisite work of art using gold, precious gems, sapphires, and diamonds worth around $30,000.”
Jerry Lewis: “We had Jerry Lewis sign a glass many years ago and we auctioned it off. After Jerry Lewis passed, the donor who had originally bought the glass, Mr. Fred Klauke, contacted me to say he wanted to donate it back to us as it would likely now be worth much more money. I was stunned. What an incredible gesture.”
Aside from the CMGAs, the events’ after party continues to ignite the palettes and imaginations of guests and donors. Slack-jawed guests were transported to a veritable Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, thanks to the madly whimsical imagination of Chef Norman Love of Norman Love Confections. “Norman outdid himself again this year,” enthused Melton. “The colors! The lights! And then, he brought in seven world-renowned pastry chefs who all created these incredible works of edible art. They were so beautiful you didn’t want to eat them. But then, oh, the flavors! They tasted as good as they looked.”
After 2017’s CMGA after party brought so much positive buzz to the event, Melton has been delighted by the number of celebrity chefs who have now inquired into working with the CMGAs. “I just keep thinking, ‘how did this all happen?’”
The reason is obvious to us.
John D. Adams is an award winning writer and photographer.