Annual Casino Night Gala on Nov. 7 supports year-round mission

Right out of a showy Vegas casino, the walls of Beachside Marriott’s banquet room will be lined with slot machines, craps, roulette, and Texas hold-em tables and the floors will be populated with 12 black jack dealers slinging cards — almost double the number last year —all for the second annual Casino Night Gala to raise money for the St. Mary Star of the Sea Outreach Mission.

Executive Director Tom Callahan, who has been with the mission since it opened its doors in 2006 and started volunteering, said he had no idea of the demand he would encounter.

The Star of the Sea mission serves 32 facilities in Monroe County from Key Largo to Key West, supplying 3,500 working families with more than 120,000 pounds of food per month. The yearly budget to help these families runs around $2 million a year.

“I like to think we are working in the homeless prevention division,” said Callahan. “We are trying to help keep people in their homes; there are so many locals living paycheck to paycheck.”

In addition to supplying the families with food, the mission also makes weekly deliveries to domestic abuse shelters, and other local group homes like Samuel’s House.

The mission’s five refrigerated trucks pick up about 5,000 pounds of food a month from each local grocery store throughout Monroe County in a food recovery program that collects food within three days of its expiration date.

November is just the start of their busy holiday season, where the mission will provide 300 families with a gift card for their Thanksgiving feast meals, and a basket filled with all the fixings specialized for the family’s traditions.

Callahan imagined the casino fund-raising idea last year when he was looking for something different to help spread the word about the need of the mission. One of the hardest things was finding an open night. “It’s really more about being able to offer something to our generous sponsors,” he said of last year’s sold out event. “It helped raise our visibility in the community and put our name on their charitable radars.”

The event raised $50,000 last year. This year, organizers hope to help make sure children’s nutritional needs are met. The mission provided the 11-week free summer food program for students countywide with some of the funds. “The working poor are able to get the help they need for daycare, but what about the food?” he asked. “Sometimes there is no money for things more than string cheese and Spaghettios, and we want to help provide a nutritious meal for the younger children who may not have the means.”

Callahan added that Monroe County does an exceptional job with school-aged children.

Raffle tickets are collected by the casino night organizers and later drawn from boxes for grand prizes like a luxury Caribbean cruise for two, a four-night stay at a Cancun resort and a Disney park package for a family of four, plus more.

Ticket price is $100, and covers the admission, two complimentary cocktails, passed appetizers, and a 5,000 chip gaming buy-in to get the night started. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 7. Dress is “Key West Formal,” black-tie optional. Tickets can be bought at or by calling Tom Callahan at 410-703-8212. With less than 70 tickets still available, Callahan says he expects a full house.

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