Friday, November 2, 2012

Pink Power Earns Some Green in Battle with Breast Cancer

The Pink Pals are (from left to right) Ellen Baldwin, Barbara Conda, Cathy Barnhorst and Leslie Ware. (courtesy photo)

Celebrities donate designer purses to help raise money

By Pat Sommers
Staff Columnist

Four area residents have harnessed the “power of pink” to earn some serious green to help women battling breast cancer.
Ellen Baldwin, Cathy Barnhorst, Barbara Conda and Leslie Ware are finalizing plans for their third gala fundraiser, “Santa’s Got a Brand New Bag.” The dinner and auction, held at the Portsmouth Harbor Events and Conference Center, in Portsmouth, New Hampshire on Thursday, November 15, will offer about 160 high-fashion handbags, including a collection of seven designer purses donated by celebrity Oprah Winfrey.
The four organizers – known as the Pink Pals – will donate proceeds from the event to York Hospital’s Breast Cancer Living Well Program where the funds will be used to support women receiving treatment in ways that typically fall outside the parameters of health insurance coverage.
According to Dawn Fernald, hospital director of marketing and new service development, the fund established by the four Pals may, for example, provide a wig for a woman who has lost her hair as a result of chemotherapy but cannot afford a suitable hairpiece on her own. Or, it could help a woman and her family with the cost of traveling to and from cancer treatment facilities.
“York Hospital is honored to have the Pink Pals work so hard to help our patients and their families,” said Fernald. “Over 25 percent of patients diagnosed with cancer at York Hospital are diagnosed with breast cancer, making it the most prevalent cancer in our community. The funds raised by this event will undoubtedly affect the lives of many in our community.”
It was Leslie Ware who first posed the idea of hosting a designer handbag auction.  “Leslie came up with the idea,” said Barbara Conda, noting Ware had friends who had hosted a similar event. She networked with those friends, and the Pals set to work planning their own event in the Seacoast region. It was Ware who also dubbed the gala “Santa’s Got a Brand New Bag.”
The Pink Pals, who laughingly decline to give their ages but describe themselves as “mature professionals,” enlisted the help of friends, relatives and hospital staff members to serve on planning committees for the dinner-auction. “We have women of all ages, from young to old, from late 20s and early 30s to women in their 80s,” said Cathy Barnhorst of the inter-generational effort.
Leisa Smith, a dietitian with the hospital’s Dining and Nutrition Services, was tasked with contacting Winfrey, a favorite with the hospital staff, to ask if she would donate a handbag. To catch the attention of the entertainment icon and the staff of her Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), Smith and her team created a video on which they sang, “Oprah, we want to OWN your handbag” to the tune of the early Beatles hit “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.”
The video was uploaded on YouTube and shared through social media sites in an effort to draw notice by Winfrey. It did. Just two weeks after the video was launched, the hospital was contacted by an OWN staff member from Los Angeles who promised a handbag autographed by Oprah.
And just a few days later, York Hospital accepted shipment of two large cartons containing not one but seven signed designer handbags – from Versace to Ferragamo – all straight from the closet of Oprah.
Signed purses donated by actress Sally Struthers, a favorite at summer productions at Ogunquit Playhouse, and by Emmy-winning television star Carson Kressley, will also go on the block, as will a purse contributed by chef Mary Ann Esposito, whose “Ciao Italia” is America’s longest-running TV cooking show. Esposito, who is expected to attend the event, donated a glittery pink bag she selected especially for fundraiser while on a recent trip to Italy.
In their first two fundraising efforts – spectacular fashion shows hosted under tents on the grounds at Ogunquit Playhouse – the Pink Pals brought in about $200,000. They hope to top the $300,000 mark with proceeds from “Santa’s Got a Brand New Bag.”
“Ellen and I started the first fashion show, but we had never done a show of that size so we asked Cathy to help us put the show together,” Conda said. Leslie, who was literally recruited on the street outside a shop - “She was carrying a clipboard and she looked organized…” - completed the fundraising quartet.
Money raised by that first fashion show was donated to York Hospital toward its purchase of a digital mammography machine. “But we didn’t want to raise money for a machine,” said Conda of the subsequent effort. “We wanted it to go to women who were going through cancer treatment.”
The Pink Pals met with hospital officials who agreed to establish and administer such a fund.
“We embrace the power of pink,” Barnhorst said of the Pals.  None of the four has personally received a cancer diagnosis, she said, “But cancer has touched all of us in some way… family, friends.”
 “Santa’s Got a Brand New Bag” will open with a champagne reception with butlered hors d’oeuvres. A silent auction will be conducted during the 90-minute cocktail hour. A four-course, small-plate dinner and live auction will follow. The Pals also promise several surprises, including a special dessert planned for the fundraiser.
An Oprah-donated handbag will be awarded as a door prize, as will a Christmas tree decorated in a pink color scheme and a handbag motif.
Because the 300 tickets offered for “Santa’s Got a Brand New Bag” sold quickly, a waiting list has been established. Should cancellations occur, those on the list will be contacted.
Seacoast residents can also vie for the chance to own a gorgeous designer bag, including one carried by Oprah Winfrey, through an online auction now in progress. The online auction offers twenty bags of all shapes and sizes and in all price ranges. Several are signed by celebrities. Bidding will continue through Sunday, November 18.
Visit and click on the pink auction button for details on both the November 15 gala and the online auction, or call 207-351-2385.