On Giving Tuesday, a cancer patients’ charity got into the holiday spirit thanks to the help and ingenuity of two Local 600 publicists, Ernie Malik and Sheryl Main. Blessed Bag, a Pittsburgh-based non-profit which distributes comfort bags to men, women, and children who are undergoing chemotherapy treatment, raised $1,700 during their Virtual Wine Tasting, hosted by Malik.
“My charity is small, and we had never done a fundraiser before,” said Blessed Bag President Jessica Main. “It was so fun interacting both with people that we knew and people we didn’t know.” Local 600 Publicist Ernie Malik, a studied expert in wines, had everyone engaged trying out different varieties they had pre-purchased, Main explained.
“By the end, we all had a lot of wine,” Main added with a laugh. “But boy was it fun!”
The nearly 50 attendees would likely agree, including Local 600 Still Photographer Melinda Sue Gordon. The idea for the wine-tasting fundraiser came from Local 600 Senior Publicist and National Executive Board Member Sheryl Main, who is Jessica Main’s aunt. Looking for a way to make the fundraiser enjoyable, Sheryl Main enlisted a fellow Local 600 senior publicist with a unique skill set.
When he’s not plying his trade as a senior publicist, Malik – a Local 600 National Executive Board member – is a certified sommelier who belongs to several professional wine organizations. In advance of the benefit, Malik provided the attendees a list of three wines – a red, a rosé and a chardonnay – which could be purchased for a total of $30. During the event, Malik gave an informal wine appreciation presentation which provided the participants insight into how to enjoy their wine. Malik included a champagne demonstration and a trivia challenge with the winner receiving a bottle of wine from Malik.
Malik told the group, ‘I’ll do this for as long as you want’ and it lasted almost two hours. Everybody stayed until the end. They enjoyed it from the comfort of their home. To me, the fun of wine is sharing it with people.”
Malik traces his interest in wine to his work on the 1994 film Village of the Damned. The central location was Point Reyes and, during the course of the shoot, Malik made periodic trips to the central coast vineyards. Over the years, as he traveled internationally, he visited wine regions all over the world.
Blessed Bag was founded in 2014 by Kristina Azur Mete, Jessica’s stepdaughter at the time. When Main was diagnosed with breast cancer and facing a lengthy course of chemotherapy, she packed a bag of essentials to take to her chemo sessions. As her treatment developed, she realized how her body was responding and she adjusted the bag accordingly: including items like socks for cold feet and a journal to record the experience.
“That first day, walking into chemotherapy, I just didn’t know what was going to happen to me,” recalled Main who will celebrate 10 years of being cancer free at the end of December. “I packed bags to comfort myself and to keep myself occupied. After eight months, there were things that happen to you. Your body gets extremely cold with the drugs, so I connected with knitting groups. Now every bag has a blanket in it.”
The customized Blessed Bag also include pillows, prayer shawls, food items and hand-made masks. The journals are labeled “Warrior Journals.” Individualized Blessed Bags are available for men and women. The person requesting the bag only pays for the shipping.
Now, having experienced the taste of a successful fundraiser, the Blessed Bag team promises a repeat engagement.
“Absolutely,” said Jessica. “Ernie said he’s ready to do the next one in spring to talk about spring wines. And it will be even bigger.”
To learn more about Blessed Bags, visit this website.