EXCLUSIVE: Susan G. Komen’s Palm Beach gala opts for cruise ship event

11:50 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017 Business
Survivors celebrate onstage during the Survivor Recognition Ceremony at the Meyer Amphitheatre following the 2017 Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in West Palm Beach, January 28, 2017. (Greg Lovett / The Palm Beach Post)

Susan G. Komen, the world’s largest nonprofit in the fight against breast cancer, will hold its major fundraising event in January aboard a cruise ship docked at the Port of Palm Beach, a first for the organization, which in August pulled its gala planned for President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club on Palm Beach.

In another first, Komen’s founder, Ambassador Nancy G. Brinker, said 75 percent of the proceeds from Komen’s Perfect Pink Party Gala & Castaway Cruise will remain in South Florida, to be directed to patients with breast cancer health needs. The move will provide immediate assistance to people affected by the hurricanes who are relocating to Florida to continue treatment, Brinker said.

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Twin needs — a new venue for Susan G. Komen and the urgent health needs of thousands of people affected by the storms — prompted the choice of the ship, the Grand Celebration MV Cruise Liner, owned by the Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line. The Grand Celebration, the Port of Palm Beach’s only cruise ship, currently is stationed in St. Thomas, chartered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help with disaster relief to victims of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, but will be back in port in December.

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“We want to raise as much money as we can and spend as little as we need to, to keep the resources right here in this state,” said Brinker, who has a home on Palm Beach. “We need to step up to to the needs of people living here.”

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Brinker said patients who were being treated for cancer have experienced interruptions in their care, such as chemotherapy infusions and surgeries, due to hurricane damage and the loss of electricity. She expects a number of patients from Puerto Rico, still mostly without power, to make their way to South Florida for life-saving treatment.

Komen’s Jan. 14 gala at Mar-a-Lago raised $1.3 million. Brinker said she hopes people will be so moved by the needs of the community that this coming January’s event will raise from $2 million to $3 million. The entire, 1,900-passenger ship is reserved for the event, which will remain at dock for the gala. The event also will feature an optional two-day cruise, departing an hour after the gala ends at 11 p.m. on Jan. 20.

The gala will cost Komen less than a typical venue, such as the Breakers Resort & Spa, where a number of events landed after fleeing Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club, following Trump’s controversial remarks about the August white nationalist and neo-Nazi marches in Charlottesville, Va.

The exodus coincided with a firestorm of criticism on social media. Many Twitter users called on people to boycott the charities, pointing to Trump’s controversial statements on the deadly violence in Charlottesville, including that “both sides” were at fault in the confrontations between neo-Nazis, white supremacists and counter protesters. The confrontation left one counter-protestor dead. Two police officers were killed when their helicopter crashed.

Trump’s insistence that there were also “ very fine people” on both sides was especially stinging to philanthropists, community leaders and charitable organizations when juxtaposed against the anti-Semitic chants of “Blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us” by marching, torch-carrying neo-Nazis and others on Aug. 11.

Komen was slated to host its event on Jan. 20 at Mar-a-Lago, but it canceled on Aug. 18, the day after Cleveland Clinic scrubbed its event at the Palm Beach manse. Cleveland Clinic’s decision was followed by more than a dozen other charities and foundations.

“We loved having our Perfect Pink Party there,” Brinker said of Mar-a-Lago, which has hosted the nonprofit for seven years. But Brinker said the pressure on the organization from philanthropists outraged by Trump’s comments was too much. “We are a national charity,” Brinker said. “We cannot afford to lose our donors. That’s what keeps us going.”

Brinker lauded the Komen board, which agreed to direct the gala’s proceeds to South Florida.

And she urged other national charities that use Palm Beach as their money-raising base to consider leaving some of the largess behind, too: “I’m quite sure it would be appreciated it people left some of their funding here to meet immediate needs.”

Prior to the disasters, Komen said a report by the Florida Women’s Funding Alliance indicates Florida ranks 50th in the nation for it share of non-elderly women without health insurance. The health needs have only gotten worse in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, she said.

Brinker said the South Florida chapter of the Komen foundation will create a method by which local health care groups can apply for the Komen money. Susan G. Komen South Florida is led by Kate Watt, who joined the group last month from the Urban League of Palm Beach County.

While this year’s venue is not the standard tux-and-ballgown affair so typical of Palm Beach, Brinker said this is an unconventional year.

Donna Ross Dodson, Komen major gift manager, said big donors already are signaling their commitment to supporting this year’s unique cause and venue.

Tickets for the gala are the same as last season: $1,000 for individuals, and $500 for “young friends” of Komen, those age 36 and under.

Attendees wishing to stay on for the cruise can book a cabin for $600 for a two-person cabin, Dodson said. Large donors giving from $20,000 to $100,000 will receive a two-person suite if they wish to go on the cruise, Dodson said.

Brinker praised the generosity of Bahamas Paradise’s chief executive Oneil R. Khoas, which is the host sponsor of the event.

In a statement, Khosa said in choosing to base its ship at the Port of Palm Beach, “we made a conscious decision to make giving back to our community part of our corporate culture.”

The ship’s availability for the gala became known to Brinker through her friendship with Anita Mitchell, the cruise line’s spokeswoman.

The ship is scheduled to return to the port no later than Dec. 23 and resume its two-night cruises to the Bahamas.

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