Saint Louis Zoo

May 22, 2009

Few charity events are as anxiously anticipated as the Saint Louis Zoo’s biennial Zoofari, coming up on June 19. Organizers say it’s more than the setting, food and music that attract almost 2,700 well-heeled St. Louisans to the event every other summer—it’s the passion attendees have for the beloved local institution.

    “We like to call it the best party in St. Louis,” says Zoo vice president for external relations Cynthia Holter. “It’s our single largest fund-raiser, and takes about 18 months to pull off.” More than 60 restaurants set up shop on the grounds, providing guests room to roam, eat, drink and enjoy the live music stationed throughout the Zoo. The event’s ‘grazing’ format is key to its appeal. “We switched to that style in 1989, and it proved to be a huge success. We could invite many more people, and the participating restaurants donate their food, which defrays our costs and helps add to our proceeds.”

    Although the Zoo’s talented special event staff is involved in the planning process, the scale of the event means they depend heavily on the help of talented volunteers. “We have the most incredible committee and chairs each year, who do their part to help not only with fund-raising, but in making the event memorable for the guests,” Holter says. “From the earliest strategic planners to the folks who are here late into the night cleaning up, we couldn’t do it without the help of our volunteers.”

    Holter says the Zoo holds a special spot in the hearts of St. Louisans, which is the main reason Zoofari generates so much excitement.  “I think people are just in love with the Zoo because of the memories it holds. It’s a local treasure!” She also believes that people have become more aware of the importance of conservation and the Zoo’s global impact over the years, and they want to do their part to make a difference.

    Proceeds from the event benefit the Zoo’s overall operations and its conservation efforts locally and around the globe. This year’s featured animal is the grizzly bear, and the evening’s theme is ‘Grizzly Bear Bash.’ Chairperson Judy Harris says that although the cause is serious, the event is pure fun. “The dress is ‘creative black tie,’ and you really see it all, from animal-print clothes to tux jackets with cargo shorts,” she says.

    The evening has plenty of fabulous highlights. “The food will of course be amazing, coming from St. Louis’ favorite restaurants, bars and caterers,” Harris says. “Plus, we have the best live entertainment in town.” Headlining the event will be The Commodores, with The Fabulous Motown Revue, Arvell, Soul Alliance and Galaxy Red playing on satellite stages throughout the Zoo. A silent auction offering jewelry, trips and other coveted prizes will take place in the Lakeside Cafe.

    Like Holter, Harris credits the hardworking committee for the event’s success. “There are about 35 people on the steering committee, and more than 100 on the general committee. Everyone does their part to help raise as much money as we can for the Zoo,” she says. The evening’s honorary chairs are Maxine Clark and Bob Fox of Build-A-Bear Workshop. Arnold Donald, Sean Hayes and Debra Hollingsworth are the event’s vice chairs. 

    Individual tickets are $175 for Zoo members, and $225 for nonmembers. Patron tickets, which include seating at reserved tables, are $1,000 for two. Tables of 10 are available for $3,500. Sponsorships and underwriting opportunities are still available. For more information or to register for tickets visit or call 646-4771.