Queens Centers for Progress Evening of Fine Food raises over $120K for individuals with developmental disabilities

Sponsor and board member Gerry Caliendo with QCP Executive Director Terri Ross, QCP Director of Development Wendy Gennaro and QCP board members Nancy Vargas and Pat Coula. (Photo by Lorraine Heaney)

More than 500 people attended the Queens Centers for Progress (QCP) 26th annual Evening of Fine Food event on March 14 celebrating community, resilience and the value of giving. 

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, Council members James Gennaro, Linda Lee, Shekar Krishnan, Sandra Ung and Vickie Paladino, along with Assemblyman David Weprin and John Hammer of the NYC Department of Education, were among those who spoke during the program. 

(From l. to r.) Council member James Gennaro, honoree and Chef of the Year Tom Rudzewick, Assemblyman David Weprin, Council member Linda Lee, honoree and Chef of the Year Rhonda Binda, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, Council members Vicki Paladino, Sandra Ung and Shekar Krishnan, and NYC Department of Education Chief Executive Director, Special Education Office, John Hammer. (Photo by Lorraine Heaney)

The in-person event — which raised more than $120,000 — also saw the presentation of the first-ever Claire Shulman Spirit of Community Award and welcomed a dynamic, new partner, Grubhub, which treated Queens families unable to attend the event to an evening of delightful dishes.

Funds raised from the event went toward supporting the longtime organization’s programs and services, assisting more than 1,200 individuals with developmental disabilities to lead more independent lives. 

The festivities included an exceptional and engaging dining experience featuring culinary delicacies from the finest restaurants and beverage purveyors in the area.

As hundreds of guests mingled, sampled gourmet foods and enjoyed an open bar, they also enjoyed comedian Suzanne Windland, magician Apollo Riego, Jim Altamore performing the songs of Frank Sinatra and the sounds of DJ Mike Kouros of Bravo Sound. Guests also participated in the silent auction and took selfies in a Le Selfie photo booth. Skye Ostreicher of City & State joined the evening as a special guest and emcee.

Sponsor Veronica Tsang with QCP Executive Director Terri Ross, QCP Director of Development Wendy Gennaro, board member Pat Coulaz and emcee Skye Ostreicher. (Photo by Lorraine Heaney)

The celebratory gathering recognized two Chefs of the Year who have made a difference in Queens and honored the legacy of the late Queens Borough President Claire Shulman, a past Chef of the Year honoree and supporter of the event and QCP.

Claire Shulman was always delighted to attend our Evening of Fine Food and welcome guests; her joy was infectious because she recognized that while this event was only for one night, its impact would last well beyond that,” said Terri Ross, executive director of QCP. “There is no one who embodies the spirit of the Queens community more than Claire Schulman did. We could not imagine this event without her, and selfishly, this is our way of making sure she is here with us every year going forward.” 

Drew Kerr, creative director and founder of the Queens Chef Project, was the first recipient of the Claire Schulman Spirit of Community Award. 

The Queens Chef Project spotlighted the culinary community amid the pandemic, showcasing the stories of chefs and restaurant owners to highlight their experiences and to encourage New Yorkers to visit their establishments.

“In her 16 years as borough president, Claire put Queens residents and businesses first, especially cultural institutions,” Kerr said. “In the same spirit of Claire, I am honored to put a spotlight on the people who are like our second families, the chefs and food workers of Queens.”

Wendy Gennaro, director of development at QCP, said they were delighted to have Kerr as the first recipient of the award. 

“Mr. Kerr’s dedication to spotlighting members of the restaurant community in a unique and intimate way has significantly supported the hospitality sector during the pandemic. He gave both his heart and his hand to keep the needs of our restaurants in the public’s mind, and we were extremely grateful to him for this wonderful project,” Gennaro said. 

(From l. to r.) Claire Shulman Spirit of Community Awardee Drew Kerr with QCP Executive Director Terri Ross, Jonathan Forgash, Queens Together, daughter Mollie Kerr, Wendy Gennaro and Joe DiStefano. (Photo by Lorraine Heaney)

Shulman’s daughter, Ellen Baker, thanked QCP for the recognition. 

“My mother was, and remains, the spirit of community in Queens,” Baker said. “I am certain she would be very honored by this tribute and award because she dedicated her life to encouraging others to show their community spirit. Thank you for this recognition. We congratulate Drew Kerr on this honor and wish QCP a successful event.”

The benefit also honored two Chefs of the Year — people who have made an impact and a difference in the community: Rhonda Binda, vice president of government affairs and social impact at Madison Square Garden Entertainment Corporation, and Thomas Rudzewick, president and CEO of Maspeth Federal Savings. In addition to being honored, Binda and Rudzewick served their community by cooking a family specialty.  

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards with Chef of the Year Awardee Rhonda Binda. (Photo by Lorraine Heaney)

Binda encouraged everyone to continue supporting QCP, as “they have truly made a difference in so many lives here in Queens.”

“What an honor it is to be QCP’s Chef of the Year and support this exceptional organization. Your contribution to QCP is a recipe for delivering unparalleled services, with great dedication, to the developmentally disabled community,” Binda said.

According to Rudzewick, QCP is a vital organization that people should support because it assists so many with developmental challenges. 

“I am honored to serve as Chef of the Year to help the Queens Center for Progress. Generosity is an inspiring aspect of human nature that enables our neighborhoods, communities and the world at large to survive and thrive! I am glad to participate in an event that supports the life-changing work of the QCP,” Rudzewick said. 

(From l. to r.) QCP Executive Director Terri Ross, honoree Tom Rudzewick, QCP Director of Development Wendy Gennaro and QCP board member Michael Macaluso. (Photo by Lorraine Heaney) 

This year, QCP also sought to create an opportunity to treat others who could not attend the Evening of Fine Food in person. Thanks to a substantial grant from the Grubhub Community Relief Fund, QCP provided 50 hunger-insecure families within its network and affiliated with the Variety Boys & Girls Club in Astoria with $100 gift cards to enjoy meals.

(From l. to r.) Skye Ostreicher, emcee, City and State, Wendy Gennaro, QCP director of development, Brett Swanson, senior manager of Community Affairs and Social Impact, Grubhub and QCP Executive Director Terri Ross (Photo by Lorraine Heaney)

“Since our inception, community has been core to our mission, and collaborating with Grubhub illustrates this commitment,” Gennaro said. “We applaud their commitment to supporting causes that address food insecurity in Queens and for supporting the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, which kept many of our neighborhood establishments alive during the pandemic. We thank Grubhub for ensuring that families, particularly those struggling to put food on the table, are able to enjoy this event even if they could not be with us in person.”

Brett Swanson, head of community affairs and social impact at Grubhub, commended QCP on the work they’re doing to provide opportunities for people with disabilities to make meaningful choices in their own lives, a mission that Grubhub firmly stands by.

“By supporting QCP and other organizations, we look forward to continuing to advance progress in the community,” Swanson said.