United Way ‘shakes, not stirs’ things up at James Bond-themed 004th Givers Gala

The dress code was black tie, the martinis where shaken (not stirred) and the atmosphere was pure James Bond at the United Way of St. Johns County’s recent 004th Givers Gala.

Held May 7 at the Casa Monica Hotel in St. Augustine, the annual benefit presented by The Hutson Companies featured a number of modifications to encourage social distancing while still enabling guests to get in the spirt of 007. In addition to “Casino Royale” type table games, a martini luge and spy “clues,” the gala featured cocktails, gourmet delights, entertainment and both live and silent auctions to support the organization’s work in the community.

“James Bond has his Moneypenny and Q, but we have each of you,” United Way Campaign Chairman Dick Williams told attendees and sponsors, who together helped raise approximately $100,000 for the organization’s mission. “And for that, I can’t thank you enough.”

 But while the atmosphere was pure James Bond, United Way-SJC Board Chair Beverly Slough emphasized that the goal of the event was to raise funds to support those in need, particularly after the economic hardships many experienced as a result of the pandemic.

“I must stress that we are here because our community needs us,” Slough said. “Not only has this year been catastrophic for individuals and families, but also for our partner nonprofits that count on our financial support.”

United Way-SJC CEO/President Melissa Nelson agreed. “Life is just messy,” she said. “In real life, we aren’t given a prewritten script with a Hollywood ending. We all need a safety net.”

Nelson shared several stories of local individuals and families aided by United Way-SJC in the past year – among them, a young couple whose baby was born with serious heart complications after the couple had both lost their jobs in the restaurant industry due to COVID-19. The organization also worked closely with several area nonprofits to renovate a dilapidated home that will now provide safe housing for homeless veterans.

“Lately, I’ve wondered what it would be like to have M’s support network, Q’s gadgets and technology, the resolve of the double-O (agents) and a license to get away with anything,” Nelson said. “But I believe with your support, this can be a reality. Together, we are the force that keeps those in our midst safe from what lurks in the shadows.”