Longtime Celebrity Waiters� and Waitresses� Night volunteer Don Gerber.

Photo by Rayshonn Shaw

After years of helping Saint Louis Crisis Nursery’s kids, John Carney was moved to adopt two children of his own. The KTRS radio personality is one of more than 100 local volunteers who dedicate time to the Nursery’s annual Celebrity Waiters’ and Waitresses’ Night. Celebrating its 22nd year, the fundraiser will include dining, parties and ‘celebrity’ sightings on Aug. 16 at four Plaza Frontenac restaurants: Brio’s Tuscan Grille, Cardwell’s at the Plaza, Canyon Café and Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse.

For more than 26 years, Crisis Nursery has been committed to preventing child abuse through providing a 24-hour safe haven and special care for children up to and including 12 years old, as well as their families, during crisis situations. More than 400 volunteers serve 7,200 children at five St. Louis area nurseries and seven outreach centers throughout the greater St. Louis, St. Charles, Southern Illinois and surrounding regions. Homelessness, family illness, death, domestic violence or lack of food and utilities typically bring residents to the nurseries. The organization offers medical exams, developmental assessments, clothing, art and play therapy and activities for children, as well as counseling programs for parents.

The Celebrity Waiters’ and Waitresses’ Night is a major supporter of the nursery’s services. Last year’s event drew 1,000 guests and brought in $90,000 in donations. Crisis Nursery CEO DiAnne Mueller expects 1,500 attendees and even more fundraising this year. “Every dollar goes to helping keep kids safe,” she notes. “And knowing it’s for the kids brings out the best in everyone.”

Celebrity waiters and waitresses entertain guests at the free event, during which 100 percent of tips donated to the servers benefit the Nursery. The evening begins with a happy hour from 4-6 p.m. at Brio’s, then continues with dinner offered at all four restaurants: 5-10 p.m. at Brio’s; two dinner seatings at 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. at Cardwell’s; 5-10 p.m. at Canyon Café; and 5-10 p.m. at Fleming’s. The event also includes a raffle, featuring prizes such as a weeklong stay in Cancun, diamond jewelry donated by Vincent’s Jewelers, a Coach bag and a St. Louis Cardinals jersey autographed by David Freese. The night concludes with an after-party from 9-11 p.m. at Brio’s. “We encourage guests to make dinner reservations early because the event sells out quickly,” says past board president Janet Conners. No reservations are needed for the happy hour and after-party, she adds.

In addition to Carney, longtime celebrity volunteers also appearing at the event this year include KMOV-TV news anchor Larry Conners; St. Louis Police Chief Daniel Isom; St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley; retired Midwest pharmaceutical manager and Crisis Nursery’s Best Friends’ chair Charlotte McClure; and Gerber’s Chapel’s Don Gerber, who raises money for the cause year-round and attends each event outfitted in a tuxedo and top hat. “They keep coming back because they understand how important it is to prevent child abuse,” Mueller notes.

Also appearing at this year’s event will be Carol House Furniture owner Brook Dubman, radiation oncology director Dr. Lannis Hall of Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish St. Peters, KMOV-TV’s Claire Kellett, Andre Hepkins and Jasmine Huda; KPLR-TV’s Melanie Moon, KSDK’s Heidi Glaus and the St. Louis Rams cheerleaders.

Organizers say celebrities and guests alike always make it a night full of entertaining surprises. “Someone will just walk up with an unplanned $1,000 donation,” Mueller recalls. “Miracles and magic happen.”

The fundraiser also helps Crisis Nursery continue to expand its centers and services. “It spreads awareness—often guests immediately ask how they can help,” Mueller says. Among additions, a new outreach center is being established in Wentzville.

The organization also is ‘changing lives with change’ through Round Up, a fundraiser that asks customers of Shop’n Save to pay for their purchases to the nearest dollar, donating the rounded amount to the Nursery. During an eight-week period this summer, Round Up raised $125,000. The organization’s mission is on a positive track, Mueller says, as 99 percent of the Nursery’s kids are not abused while in its care and are able to return home to their parents.

To make reservations for Celebrity Waiters’ and Waitresses’ Night, call the restaurants directly: Brio’s, 432-4410; Cardwell’s, 997-8885; Canyon Café, 872-3443; or Fleming’s, 567-7610.