If anyone is going to set an example for the summer benefit season — against the backdrop of COVID-19 and nonnegotiable social distancing standards — it’s Stony Brook Southampton Hospital.
So, for its 62nd annual gala, the familiar white tent in the fields of Wickapogue Road is no more. Instead, the virtual party is coming straight to the partygoers under the theme “Gala in Your Garden.”
“Please join us!” urged Robert Chaloner, the chief administrative officer of Stony Brook Southampton Hospital. “We want to get as many people as possible. Some people don’t like to go to parties, they want to stay home, and here’s a chance to stay home and support the hospital, and also join the entire community in a moment of solidarity.
“I think it would just be amazing,” he continued. “We don’t have limited tent size this year. We can get everybody that wants in this way.”
Skipping the party altogether was never an option, Mr. Chaloner explained. “The philanthropy is vitally important,” he said, “especially this year with all the expenses that we’ve incurred.”
But outside of the fundraising component, the gala is one of the biggest and longest running benefits on the East End. This year, on Saturday, August 1, it will honor the community that has always supported it and, notably, the health care and frontline workers who helped protect them.
“We saw the community really come and support this hospital, and it was so overwhelming that we needed to find a way to work with the community on our summer party, to give back and to be involved with community partners,” explained Mirella Cameran-Reilly, the director of special events for the Southampton Hospital Foundation, which hosts the annual summer party.
“This idea enabled us to do that, and I think that was really inspiration for all of us.”
Gala hosts and attendees will have two options to participate. First, with tables starting at $5,000, sponsors can host a dinner party serving up to 10 at their private homes, with wine, appetizers and entrées provided by local wineries and restaurants, including Calissa, Tutto Il Giorno and Stone Creek Inn.
“The Hamptons are a unique place, and the social life out here is a major part of it, obviously,” Mr. Chaloner said. “And our party is the biggest party of the year out here every year, and it’s probably the thing a lot of people look forward to, and we wanted to say, ‘Can we come up with something?’ It’s a tough time for a lot of people. People feel very isolated, people have been afraid. So can we create something that’s safe and fun?”
They believe they have. For each coronavirus-appropriate mini-gala, caterer Janet O’Brien will compile a party box for every host, expected to include Montaukila and other local artisan food and wines, while East End florists supply décor — making for memorable evenings right in the backyard, en plein air style, or indoors, if the group prefers.
Proceeds will benefit the Stony Brook Southampton Hospital Jenny & John Paulson Emergency Department and the Healthcare Heroes Fund.
“Both of those departments have been really important to us, to get us through this crisis,” Ms. Cameran-Reilly said. “We want to bring as many people as we can to thank the health care heroes, to thank our supporters and to thank this community. That’s a really, really important focus for us this year, and we hope it’s successful.”
To attract more gala attendees, the hospital is offering its “most reasonably priced ticket we’ve ever had,” Ms. Cameran-Reilly said. For $50, revelers can join a seven-minute virtual toast to health care workers, patrons and the community at large, starting at 7 p.m. with a warm welcome from Mr. Chaloner, followed by an address by celebrity host and actor Liev Schreiber — who sits on this year’s host committee with Donna Karan, Gabby de Felice, Joey Wölffer, Kristen Farrell, Jean Shafiroff, Jesse Warren and Martyna Sokol — and concluding with the toast itself.
“I’m hoping it’ll be seven minutes of solidarity across the entire community,” Mr. Chaloner said. “Because we’re in Southampton, people in some of the other communities we serve — like Montauk, or East Hampton, or even out in Westhampton — they have been reluctant, especially on a summer evening, to try to drive all the way to our tent.
“So we’re hoping we can get hosts in all of the communities that we serve, from the entire South Fork, and what an amazing moment of solidarity that could be, both for support with each other, but also just solidarity with the health care system, as well.”
Solidarity doesn’t need to risk social distancing protocols, Mr. Chaloner was quick to emphasize, no matter what form the party takes.
“We’d like people to do the right thing,” he said. “Whoever’s in your quarantine bubble would probably be the right group to party with. And if you do want to have a larger group and invite them, we’d hope everybody would distribute their tables around their backyard, keep their distance and do it in a way that people can be safe.
“We certainly wouldn’t be encouraging any large groups of people,” he continued. “You hear the stories of the big, huge, gigantic parties. We wouldn’t be encouraging that. But make it smaller, intimate, festive and safe.”