A Cocktail For Compassion

Aykroyd-DanBLKBY JOHN D. ADAMS

Any talented mixologist will tell you that the secret to making the perfect cocktail is an ideal combination of inspiration, perseverance, and focus. Philanthropist and founder of the wildly successful Celebrity Martini Glass Auction (CMGA), Brenda Melton, has shaken and stirred her ingredients to hone a heady concoction that delivers quite a punch. In February, her fund-raising event raised more than $500,000 in support of veterans’ organizations PAWS Assistance Dogs and the Collier County Honor Flight.

Brenda Melton’s event is a unique blend of ingredients, and we are proud to share the recipe:
Inspiration
It started with “Sex and the City.” Really. Back in 2008, show superfan Brenda Melton decided to celebrate the zeitgeist TV show’s big-screen debut by inviting 10 close female friends to a gala night out. She hired a limo to shepherd her girlfriends to the movie’s premiere, then to dinner and Cosmos. “My friends said, ‘You’re arranging all of this. What can we do?’” Melton remembers. “I said: ‘Design and bring a martini glass. Put it in a bag so no one can see it until we get to dinner, and the person with the best decorated martini glass will get a prize’… When the time came, nine women unveiled the ugliest glasses you’ve ever seen!  But one friend had her son, an artist in New York, design her glass. It put all of ours to shame. It was amazing! We wouldn’t even drink out of it.”

Naples’ newspapers grabbed hold of the unique story and when the next “Sex and the City” film premiered two years later, Melton decided to do it all again. “This time, 30 women came to dinner bearing martini glasses designed by jewelers and artist friends. They were unbelievable! They all worked so hard! And I thought, I can’t let these go to waste. That’s what sparked the idea that maybe this could be a fun way to do a fundraiser.”

Perseverance
Melton spent the next year trying to get celebrities like Manolo Blahnik and Sarah Jessica Parker to consider signing martini glasses specifically designed with each personality in mind. It took a lot of calls and letters. But Melton is not one to give up so easily. In time, Blahnik came through, signing his glass, appropriately, in red nail polish. “I probably drove the people who work with Sarah Jessica Parker crazy,” admits Melton. “I must have written seven letters and made innumerable phone calls.” The actress finally heard about the idea, and happily signed hers, as well.

In Naples, it seems that almost everyone either knows a celebrity or has a friend who knows someone of note. So Melton continues to network and fervently works to gain access to personalities whose signatures would reap even greater donations.

Focus
Melton’s fundraising efforts were originally focused on the fledgling Naples Film Festival. As such, she was able to procure even more celebrity-signed martini glasses, including: Jeff Bridges, John Travolta, and a host of sports figures. Donations that first year garnered $21,000! And as the annual event, now officially called the Celebrity Martini Glass Auction, grew, so did the list of participants and the donations.

Then, Melton decided to change her focus. “The Film Festival is doing great, and they really didn’t need our funds anymore. I had always wanted to work with veterans. My father was a 21-year Air Force vet, and there were two organizations that I strongly believe in that could truly benefit from additional funding.” PAWS Assistance Dogs works to pair wounded veterans with highly trained assistance dogs. And Collier County Honor Flight, which annually foots the bill to fly WWII veterans together for a day at the Washington, D.C. memorial in their honor.

The compassionate cocktail
After diligently working to develop just the right balance, Melton’s unflagging hard work and effervescence has seen her unique blend soar. Celebrities and artists now work together to create unique glasses that one would only dare to drink from. The auction annually features more than 25 martini glasses, signed and designed by celebrities and heroes. Last year, the CMGA raised a head-spinning $300,000 for PAWS and Honor Flight. And this year’s event, held in February, featured a heady roster of new glasses signed by: Jennifer Lawrence, Clint Eastwood, Derek Jeter, Dan Aykroyd, Annette Bening, Larry Bird, John Goodman, Elizabeth and Bob Dole, and many others.

It’s all been a dizzying cocktail for Melton, but it is one she happily imbibes. “I will continue to work for causes that really need assistance. I will go where I’m needed and work with projects that truly resonate within my heart.” We raise our glasses to you! Cheers!

Learn more about the Celebrity Martini Glass Auction by visiting their website at: www.naplescmga.com.

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A Cocktail For Compassion