On Wednesday evening, a gala event was held at La Grange Inn in West Islip to raise money and awareness for the National Kidney Registry, a leading kidney donation network.
National Kidney Registry Executive Director Thomas Mollo spoke about the event and how quickly it's grown.
"It's a fundraising event sponsored by the Atlantic Auto Group," he said. "It kind of grew arms and legs...we had one last year that Jackie Brucia from Atlantic put together for us for about 125 people, and this one tonight is probably going to top out at more than 600 people."
The fundraiser included cocktails, dinner, music, speeches, and an auction involving some very high-end items, including bicycles and autographed sports memorabilia. The event is expected to generate about $100,000 for the registry's efforts.
Mollo said the Kidney Registry was born out of one man's desire to help his child.
"The registry was started three years ago by Garet Hil," he said. "Garet's daughter, when she was 11 years old, faced kidney failure, and they needed to find a transplant for her. While trying to get through that process, he got very frustrated and said he was going to fix the system. As a result, he put together the National Kidney Registry, and in the last three years what we've grown to is the largest kidney exchange in the world."
To date, the National Kidney Registry has been able to located kidneys for 195 patients.
Despite his organization achieving prominence in just under three years, founder Garat Hil isn't resting on his laurels.
"It feels good, but we've got a lot of work left," he said. "We'll facilitate 150 transplants this year...hopefully, very soon, we'll be at 1,000 transplants a year. There's a lot of room to grow."
"Atlantic Auto Group has been a wonderful sponsor and partner in this." Hil added. "Their efforts are going to help a lot of people."
Jackie Brucia, comptroller for Atlantic Automotive, is one of the driving forces behind the group's involvement in the National Kidney Registry.
"Atlantic is sponsoring this because I've been involved with the Kidney Registry for the past couple of years," she said. "I asked my bosses if we could do a fundraiser, and we got all of our employees, vendors and friends to come."
However, fate would deal an unexpected card to Brucia.
"Little did I know that, two months ago, I learned that I need a kidney transplant myself," she said. "I hope things go well."
John Staluppi, owner of Atlantic Automotive Group, who is known for his philanthropic efforts, said, "Jackie works for us, and we're here to support her. We want to make this event as successful as possible, and give as much help as possible."
Suffolk County treasurer Angie M. Carpenter was also on-hand to support a friend in need.
"Jackie Brucia is a friend of mine," she said. "She's been very committed to this cause for many years, and we're all pulling for her."
Two members of Atlantic Automotive were also honored for the variety of charities they support every year, including the Kidney Registry, the Make A Wish Foundation, the Huntington Hospital, and Big Brothers/Big Sisters.
The first honoree, John Pickett, Atlantic's chief operating officer, was glad to be making a difference.
"I'm very excited to be a part of this," he said. "It feels really good to partake in a good charity for good people."
The second honoree, Michael D. Brown, Atlantic's vice president of operations, was more concerned about the well-being of a close colleague than having honors bestowed upon him.
"It's strange to say that I'm being honored," he said. "It's more a mission, because a dear friend got into some trouble, and needs a kidney. And that, along with making people aware of the National Kidney Registry, became my passion."