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Gala for Good: Orlando Family Foundation for Charities

The joy and excitement of a party are undeniable, and for Sam Orlando Sr., they also are inspirational. After a family celebration for his 60th birthday nearly two decades ago, he had the idea to create an event unlike any other: a gala and dinner auction where charities are both the guests and the beneficiaries. The Orlando family has more than 50 years of catering and event planning experience in St. Louis, so throwing a memorable party was no problem, and the rest of the family embraced Sam’s plan. That was the inception of the Orlando Family Foundation for Charities, and 18 years later, it has raised more than $1 million for local and national organizations.

“My husband and I realized we wanted to do something to give back,” Sam’s wife Jan Orlando says of starting the foundation. She adds that the annual gala is different from typical charity events. Any 501(c)(3) charity can participate through the purchase of a table, and each table counts as an entry into a drawing. The evening begins with hors d’oeuvres, a silent auction and live music. Guests enjoy a four-course dinner prepared by Orlando’s executive chef, and a live auction adds to the total proceeds of the evening. At the end of the night, three drawings take place, and each of the winning charities takes home an equal share of the money raised. “It’s unique because the funds don’t just go to one cause,” Orlando says. “Everyone in the room has the opportunity to win, and many great organizations have benefited over the years.”

Past beneficiaries include Ronald McDonald House Charities, Nurses for Newborns, Make-a-Wish Foundation, St. Louis Crisis Nursery and Food Outreach. “It’s a substantial win,” Orlando notes, adding that in the past, organizations have taken home as much as $50,000 each. The foundation is thrilled to be able to help so many nonprofits. “We’re ecstatic to have passed the $1 million mark,” Orlando says. “The family puts together the event every year with a lot of hard work and passion, and it’s awesome to see those efforts pay off while also giving back to the community.”

Orlando says the family tackles almost every facet of organizing the dinner and auction. One of the highlights is how her son, Sam Jr., decorates the hall. “Our friends and guests want to come back every year to see what he has done, and it’s always awesome,” Orlando explains. “Every year, it is unique and new, and everyone ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ when they walk through the doors.” The theme of 2019’s event is still under wraps, but she says people can expect to be blown away when they enter Orlando’s Event and Conference Center on Jan. 26.

The gala really is a family affair, and that makes it all the more special for Orlando. “I have to give kudos to my relatives because they work so hard to make the dinner and auction possible,” she says. “They all have jobs and families of their own, but they work avidly on this event all year. Sam and I are very thankful that they are willing to do so.”

The Orlando Family Foundation for Charities’ Annual Gala Dinner Auction is Jan. 26 at Orlando’s Event and Conference Center. All proceeds will go to three of the attending charities. Pictured on the cover: Sam Orlando Sr. and his wife, Jan Orlando. For more information, visit orlandofamilyfoundation.org.

Cover design by Allie Bronsky
Cover photo by Tim Parker Photography

Pictured above: the Orlando family.

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