Update: Carmen Brocato and Michael Kenny, organizers of Christian's Wish 'said the show must go. The benefit, to be held at Temple Emanu-El on Saturday, May 19 to raise funds to help the family of 13-year-old Christian Panarese afford a new wheelchair, will be held as scheduled.
Brocato and Kenny said Wednesday that due to lagging ticket sales, the dinner and comedy show could very well be canceled. Rather than spend money to purchase food in the hope that more people might attend, the two were thinking of giving the family the funds that had been donated and refunding money to ticket holders. But both agreed that holding the event to "give Christian a lift" was nearly as important as collecting additional dollars for the cause.
"We had the benefit meeting last night and have decided to continue with the benefit dinner next week," Brocato said. "The committee has felt it would be a crush to Christian's spirit if we canceled the benefit and we decided to continue."
Original story posted on May 10:
For most 13 year olds, a new set of wheels means an upgraded bicycle or perhaps a tricked-out skateboard, but for Christian Panarese, born with spastic quadriplegia, the pair he wants belongs to a wheelchair.
The Westfield resident, who attends and lives with his grandparents, has outgrown his current wheelchair. But a new one, which would enable him to stand, making it easier for him to use the bathroom or work at the blackboard in school, is not covered by his insurance.
Michael Kenny and Carmen Brocato, friends of Panarese's grandfather, Frank, a retired New York City police detective, have organized 'An Evening of Dinner & Laughs' for Saturday, May 19 at to help offset the cost of the $49,000 chair. But, due to lack of interest, the two said they may need to cancel the event.
The evening would feature dinner and entertainment by comedian Mike Marino for $70 per person. The New Jersey-born stand-up has performed in major comedy clubs from Manhattan to Los Angeles and appeared on hit TV shows such as 'Frasier' and 'Party of Five.'
Although Temple Emanu-El has donated the space, Signature Creations in Linden has offered to cater the event at a discount, Marino is taking a pay cut and has thrown in an opening act for free, and Cox Printing has donated its services, Kenny and Brocato said ticket sales have been so poor they don't know if it is worth hosting the fundraiser.
"We're at a point right now, we just told the grandfather, where, do we go ahead with it? We might just, whatever we have, just give it to the family, and cut out the party, because the response has not been terrific," Kenny said. "We're surprised, I don't know if it's the economy."
"We could expect a lot of walk-ups but how do you plan for the food?" Brocato said. "We could plan for it but if they don't come, then we're in the hole. We're trying not to cancel it because it would be a big disappointment to Christian. He's expecting it."
The two explained that as Christian has grown up and his grandparents have grown older, it has become increasingly difficult for them to lift him. The wheelchair that would be covered would not be as advanced as the one that would elevate him to a standing position.
Brocato and Kenny said they will meet with Frank Panarese tonight to decide if they should go ahead in the hope that ticket sales pick up or cancel the event and offer refunds to ticket holders.
The organizers said donations have trickled in—a 13-year-old from Westfield donated $2,000 of his Bar Mitzvah money to Christian's Wish—but they would still like to sell enough tickets to hold the event to lift Christian's spirits.
"We don't want to spend money to lose money. We'd like to see enough people so we could get this going for his sake. I don't know how devastating it is to tell the kid, 'listen, it's canceled, it didn't work out,'" Kenny said. "As a 13 year old, he might think nobody cares."
For more information or to purchase tickets or make a donation, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call Michael Kenny at 908-232-6770 x 129 or Carmen Brocato at 732-675-5748. Donations can be mailed to: Christian's Wish 752 East Broad St. Westfield, NJ 07090.