The good work of The Salvation Army was celebrated in music and testimony Tuesday night at its 70th Annual Gala held at the New York Marriott Marquis in Times Square.
Philanthropist, businessman and radio talk-show host John Catsimatidis was presented with The Pinnacle of Achievement Award, The Salvation Army Greater New York Division’s highest honor, for his years of generosity to the organization and to many others.
“John Catsimatidis is younger than The Salvation Army, but he’s incredible because of his spirit and incredible heart,” said Rita Cosby, the Emmy-winning TV host, radio star and bestselling author who hosted the event. She likened his generosity to that of The Salvation Army, citing The Army’s 2,707,097 meals served to the hungry last year in the Greater New York area, as well as the 500,409 nights of shelter and 605,695 days of childcare provided.
“Think about that,” she said. “These are incredible statistics. Helping people in need – that’s what The Salvation Army is about. Period.”
Throughout the evening, The Salvation Army’s Greater New York Youth Band and Chorus performed, featuring a euphonium solo by Devonte Thompson on “Ding Dong Merrily on High” and Danielle Beckvermit singing a powerful “O Holy Night.” Devonte and Danielle are two young adults from Salvation Army music programs who overcame personal challenges to excel in music.
“You put Carnegie Hall to shame,” Cosby said of all the young musicians.
The Old and the New
In his Invocation, Rabbi Ari Lamm said the work of The Salvation Army followed in the tradition of one of our great Biblical forebears.
“Those gathered here tonight are true children of Abraham,” he said. “Like Abraham before them, may they be a blessing to all people.”
While tradition was a highlight of the evening, change was also celebrated. Lt. Colonel Ricardo Fernandez stepped into the role of Greater New York Divisional Commander this past summer. Lt. Colonel Ricardo thanked those in attendance for taking time from their busy holiday schedules to be there.
“New York is a busy place during the holidays,” he said. “The Salvation Army is busy right along with it.”
He spoke of the holiday relief programs that just the week before had served Thanksgiving dinners to thousands of homeless and hungry people throughout the Greater New York area.
“And we are just getting started,” he said.
“The holidays are not the only season that we are hard at work,” he continued, noting The Salvation Army’s efforts during one of the worst hurricane seasons on record. “In every place the hurricanes struck, from Texas to the U.S. Virgin Islands, The Salvation Army was there, providing an extensive service to hundreds of thousands of victims and first responders. Joining these operations were members of our own Greater New York Emergency Services team.”
He praised the Division’s efforts in Puerto Rico, where roughly 10 percent of New Yorkers have roots.
“But what about the day-to-day disasters in our own communities, the kind that don’t make the headlines? The Salvation Army is there, too, working just as hard. We serve almost a million people a year throughout New York City, Long Island and the lower Hudson Valley.”
How to Be “HIP”
In his Christmas Message, Pastor A.R. Bernard, founder of the Christian Cultural Center, explained the work of The Salvation Army as being “HIP.” The “H” in that word stands for history, he said. The “I” represents issues that cause strife, the unresolved history, and the “P” is whether we get involved with these issues or turn away. What makes the difference is when the issues become personal.
The only way we are going to change what is happening in our world, Pastor Bernard said, “is when we understand we have to take it personally and not feel we’re removed from it. We are our brother’s keeper.”
He said God showed us an example of this by giving us His son.
“God looked at the world and He took it personally.”
Here to Help
When it came time to receive his award, John Catsimatidis showed his humility – and his humor. Looking out over his standing ovation, he joked, “Nobody move.”
He then talked about what was important to him.
“I’m not here to be honored, I’m here to help The Salvation Army,” he said. He also wanted to call attention to the continuing hardship in Puerto Rico, from which his daughter, Andrea, had just returned and shared with him her stories. He called on the government to get involved.
“These are American citizens,” he said. “For them to be suffering without power, that’s not right.”
He said he was going to double the amount he had planned to give to The Salvation Army.
The evening culminated in a spirited performance by Mike Yung, who had been singing in the New York subways for 37 years until last year when his interpretation of the Righteous Brothers classic hit “Unchained Melody” was recorded and went viral. Within a week he was in L.A. to appear on The Late, Late Show with James Corden. Then it was on to America’s Got Talent where he earned a semifinalist spot on Season 12. He is now recording a CD.
“Nothing happens to you before God says it’s time,” he said in a video presentation before he sang. “Never give up on your dreams.”
After a knockout performance of “the song that made me famous,” he was joined by the Greater New York Youth Band and Chorus for “The Christmas Song” and a rousing “New York, New York.”
The evening’s closer, the Rev. John C. Lin, had a hard task.
“How do you offer a benediction after this?” he asked, before calling upon God’s grace for all those present and their work.