Party in a Box: Gearing Up for the Virtual 2021 Gala

Party in a Box: Gearing Up for the Virtual 2021 Gala

Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) has a focused mission, and that is to find a cure for type 1 diabetes (T1D).

“A lot of people have misconceptions about diabetes,” says Melissa Newman, Executive Director of the JDRF Southern & Central Ohio chapter. “Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that can impact anyone at any age at any time. It’s not associated with diet and lifestyle so you can’t avoid getting it by eating right and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.”

This 501(c) organization provides a broad array of community and support services to the type 1 diabetes population and each year holds an in-person black-tie event, the Cincinnatian of the Year Gala, to raise funds to improve medical research and treatment modalities. This year, however, due to the ongoing uncertainties surrounding COVID-19, and the fact that the event typically attracts 800 to 900 people, they are hosting the gala with at-home party kits with the theme “Back to the 80s.”

Before the May 8 event, JDRF will provide participants with what Newman calls a “party in a box.” These at-home party kits will include décor (linens, chair coverings, even sequined chair bands) as well as scrumptious food and alcohol, including a custom cocktail kit. Partnering with Jeff Thomas Catering, they have created a self-contained menu that includes easy-prep entrees that need only to be popped into the oven for 15 minutes.

“We’re taking all of the great experiences that people would typically have at our in-person event and giving them the tools to replicate it at home within their bubble,” says Becky Susman Gaible, who serves as the JDRF chapter’s Gala Director.

Folks can utilize the Socio app, which is the central event hub that will walk you through what to do. For instance, there will be a cocktail demo that will have celebrity bartender Bill Whitlow deliver a video presentation explaining how to make a custom ‘80s drink. It will also allow guests to connect virtually with others who are also celebrating in their homes.

“We have everything already planned, from activities to tips, tricks, strategies, content, and videos that can be played throughout the night,” says Gaible. She recognizes, however, that people are tired of sitting in front of a computer.

“We want to provide an event experience that doesn’t require staring at a screen and listening to us talk,” Gaible says.

The gala will include a silent auction, available through the Socio app, and Fund A Cure, where folks make tax-deductible donations to JDRF to help find a cure for type 1 diabetes. During the party, JDRF will feature several youth ambassadors who will share their stories online about living with T1D.

“We put a face to the disease by inviting our youth ambassadors to tell their stories and thank their donors by name,” says Newman.

Though the annual gala usually brings in more than $1 million, making it their biggest fundraiser of the year, the pandemic has obviously impacted their numbers significantly as this is the second year they have had to forego an in-person gala.

Though the organizers recognize that everyone relishes the regular in-person party, this virtual shindig is the next best thing during this precarious time. It also allows the newly reorganized chapter to unite both the Cincinnati and Columbus markets after merging with the Southwest Ohio chapter this past summer. Both events will happen simultaneously in a similar format, and both with the “Back to the 80s” theme, but will be differentiated and tailored to each specific market. 

Liza and Albert Smitherman are being honored in Southwest Ohio as the Cincinnatians of the Year, and Worthington Industries is being celebrated in Central Ohio as the Columbus Gala honoree.

“We hope that people will enjoy this wonderful party in their home or backyard. It’s a way to bring the magic of the JDRF gala into your own home … and all for a great cause, of course,” says Newman. “It promises to be a great time.”

JDRF Southern & Central Ohio Chapter is located at 8035 Hosbrook Road, Suite 210, Cincinnati, OH 45236. To buy tickets, call 513.793.3223 or visit

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