On the evening of Aug. 10, 2019, when John Waite performed his 1984 hit “Missing You” as a finale to the Starlight Bowl’s summer concert series, little could anyone have imagined just how prophetic the words of that song would be. In just over six months, Burbank would join the rest of the world in missing everything and everyone by taking shelter from a novel virus.
While the “missing” of those who have fallen victim to the virus is the paramount heartbreak, the pandemic has also precipitated missing myriad things, from businesses who couldn’t hang on, social gatherings and classroom schooling, to so many things we love and have taken for granted. Among those things are traveling, visiting museums, dining in restaurants, going to plays and films, and the Starlight Bowl’s 2020 Summer Concert Series.
“I think everyone is just sick of being in front of their computers,” said Albert Hernandez, who serves as the executive director of the Burbank-based Family Promise of the Verdugos. “We all want to get out, hear live music and see one another, even if we have to be socially distanced.”
Since taking over the reins of Family Promise six years ago, Hernandez, his board of directors and staff, have hosted a gala fundraiser each year that, along with providing a wonderful evening of entertainment, also includes the bestowing of their annual awards.
“Last year we had to pull the plug on our gala at the last minute due to the pandemic,” Hernandez said. “We hated to do that because it’s something people enjoy, and it brings in a lot of money that we are really in need of.”
Not wanting to miss out on a gala for two consecutive years, Hernandez told his board he wanted to move forward with gala plans this year, and made it abundantly clear he didn’t want to do it virtually.
“I’m no longer a fan of doing anything virtually other than what I have to do to keep our organization running,” he said with a laugh. “Luckily, I have a very brave board who is always willing to make things happen, so we sat down, brainstormed and decided to give doing a live event a shot. We knew it had to be safe, but we also wanted it to be fun. That’s how we came up with the idea of doing an evening with a ‘Drive-In Theater’ theme, but instead of seeing a movie we will present a live band. So it will be a drive-in concert in the next best thing to the Starlight Bowl — the Starlight Bowl’s parking lot.”
Working closely with Kristen Smith, who oversees Starlight Bowl performances that are put on by Burbank’s Parks and Recreation Department, Hernandez and his event committee have been working hard to make this happen while abiding by the Los Angeles County protocols for safely presenting a live event.
“We’re calling it ‘Shake, Rattle and Roll at the Bowl,’ and it will take place on April 10,” said Hernandez.
The evening of live music, which will include a boxed dinner donated by Metropolitan Culinary Services owner Steve Mora, will also present an online auction and the presentation of the annual awards to Pat and Laurie Patterson and Charles “Chuck” Cusumano.
“To me, our board and our staff, it is a great honor to be able to honor these individuals,” said Hernandez. “The Pattersons have a long history of being great supporters of many civic organizations. They are real leaders in this community. They volunteer in a hands-on way with the families we serve who are experiencing homelessness. They have always been there for us and our families, both by providing printing through their company, Patterson Graphics, and in a very personal way by getting to know our families and by offering us invaluable business advice and counselling. That is why they are the perfect recipients of our Hands On, Hearts In award.”
The evening will also see the presentation of the Impact Award, which is given to individuals or organizations who have made significant contributions to the Family Promise mission of dealing with the homelessness epidemic.
“Chuck Cusumano is a true visionary whose constant belief in our organization and support of helping our homeless community has made a positive change it the lives of so many people,” Hernandez said. “The entire Cusumano family and their business have been invaluable by means of the help and support they have provided us with over the years. They have helped keep the organization thriving by investing their time as well as their monetary support, so it’s a true honor for us to recognize this family’s patriarch.”
Along with preparing for this year’s fundraiser, Hernandez and his staff are also busy carrying on with their day-to-day work.
“We have had more funding from the federal government than ever before through the CARES Act,” Hernandez said. “That is great, but it’s also indicative of how bad things are. In 2020, we served 601 households in Burbank and Glendale. That’s in comparison with the previous year in which we served 170.”
The organization is currently running more programs with more staff because the need is so great, Hernandez added.
“Sadly, this increase is nothing compared to what I believe we are going to see,” he opined. “The aftermath of COVID is going to leave many more people in need of support. There are hundreds of people in Burbank who are facing incredible hardships, especially with paying their rent. We have families who are in arrears by $10,000 to $15,000. When you get that far behind you just can’t catch up, so we are doing whatever we can to help.”
Family Promise of the Verdugos is a nonprofit organization committed to helping homeless families achieve lasting independence. They provide safe shelter, meals and support services for homeless families with assistance from local church congregations and volunteers.
David Laurell may be reached by email at email@example.com or (818) 563-1007.