Stamford, Connecticut, is less than an hour by train from Grand Central Terminal on the Metro North. On Saturday the coastal community of about 117,000 hosted Stamford on the Sound, a fundraiser for Japan earthquake and tsunami relief.
Why would a town in Connecticut with no significant Japanese population raise money to support the rural northeastern region of Japan? Stamford is the birthplace of former New York Mets manager Bobby Valentine, a beloved sports figure who led the Chiba Lotte Marines to the 2005 Japan Series championship. The ESPN baseball analyst still has great memories of and ties to Japan, and as Stamford’s Director of Public Safety, Health, and Welfare, Valentine chose to showcase his hometown for this benefit.
Under a tent on re-developed property known as Harbor Point, Stamford on the Sound was an event that took on multiple personalities. Attendees ran the gamut from baseball fans to wine lovers to Japan enthusiasts to Stamford residents supporting the growth of their city. Whatever the reasons, hundreds of spirited people came out to sample culinary delights from area restaurants, taste wine from world-renown winemakers, and raise an estimated $750 thousand for what Stamford mayor Michael Pavia described as a “signature event.”
Former Mets and Yankees pitcher David Cone, actor Richard Gere, and journalist Armen Keteyian were among the celebrities on hand for the festivities, posing for photos with VIPs. When Ambassador Shigeyuki Hiroki, Consul General of Japan in New York, addressed the crowd, he said, “I’m glad to see Richard Gere. I also wanted to see Justin Bieber, but maybe next time.”
After that moment of levity, Hiroki went on to express his gratitude for the “tremendous generosity” that people of the US have shown Japan during this time of need.
While attendees sampled wine, beer, and sake, they also placed bids on autographed sports memorabilia, jewelry, fitness packages, vacations, concert tickets, and tours of Japanese clothing store Uniqlo and Tommy Hilfiger’s headquarters. All proceeds from ticket sales and the auction go to the Japanese American Association of New York (JAA).
Gary Moriwaki, president of JAA, recently visited the Tohoku region, touring the devastated cities of Higashimatsushima and Ishinomaki in Miyagi Prefecture and Soma, Fukushima, which is a mere 25 miles from the compromised Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.
“We were just . . . doing our due diligence to see which organizations are the most appropriate” to receive the donations, says Moriwaki. “There are a lot of smaller NGOs that are more nimble, that are doing good work.”
JAA is a non-profit organization that has been providing social welfare to the Japanese community in New York City for more than one hundred years. However, recipients of the group’s assistance aren’t only Japanese. JAA has helped victims of 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia, and last year’s earthquake in Haiti. While JAA will disperse the proceeds from Stamford on the Sound to Japanese NGOs for earthquake and tsunami relief, a portion of Saturday’s donations will be earmarked for US tornado relief as well.
Bobby V’s involvement with JAA isn’t his only foray into helping Japan during this current crisis. Immediately after the earthquake and tsunami, Bobby V collaborated with Stamford-based AmeriCares, a non-profit organization that provides medicine, medical supplies, and humanitarian aid to disaster and crisis areas around the world.
“Somebody in our office had the idea of calling Bobby because they knew he coached and was a prominent figure [in Japan],” says Curt Welling, President and CEO of AmeriCares. “Two hours later he was in our office, and four days later we delivered 17 tons of medicine to Tohoku University Hospital in Sendai. Bobby was critical to facilitating that contact.”
Bobby V has also been in contact with some of his former players in Japan, including one who donated items for the silent auction. He hasn’t been to Japan since the disaster, but he hopes to plan a trip for this summer.
“Across the ocean, there is devastation,” says Bobby V. “We’re just trying to be one big community in the world that needs us.”