January 27, 2012 12:26:00 PM
Imagine it: formal wear, finger foods and good, old-fashioned face-to-face dancing all set to classic rhythm and blues. This isn't a high school prom it's the second annual Bully Gras Ball, a grownup party with hometown philanthropy at the core.
The event, which starts at 7:30 tonight at the Starkville Country Club, is hosted by Oktibbeha-Starkville Emergency Response Volunteer Services, or OSERVS, and is the nonprofit group's biggest fundraising event each year.
OSERVS provides disaster relief and disaster relief training opportunities to the public.
"Right now, we have two employees that are paid by federal grants, which helps out because the rest of us are volunteers with other jobs," said Amanda Edwards, vice chairwoman of the volunteer board for OSERVS. "Any more employees will cause us to have to pay out of pocket, and we want every cent possible to go out to tragedy victims."
Guests will enjoy a taste of the New Orleans party atmosphere combined with Mississippi State University school spirit, hors d'oeuvres and a cash bar.
The Flames, a local R&B band, will provide music entertainment.
Later in the evening, though, is when the philanthropy will begin.
Guests will vote by monetary donation to elect a Bully Gras king and queen from a pre-existing court of nominees who were chosen based on their active roles in the community. In addition to the royalty election, guests have an opportunity for sponsorships. All proceeds from the benefit will be kept local.
Last year's Bully Gras Ball raised nearly $30,000, and this year's party is anticipated to be just as successful. As the community grows each year, OSERVS will continue to meet the community's emergency needs as they arise. But don't expect a business to grow out of the volunteer-run group.
Despite the night of glamour, an OSERVS volunteer will quickly tell anyone the job is not all razzle-dazzle. Being part of the organization also means sharing in the loss and heartbreak of friends and neighbors.
Libby Thompson, director of internal operations, recalled a story of a family of three losing all their possessions in a house fire.
"It was sad knowing that the boy left that morning with a home and came home from school and had nothing," Thompson said. "It was heartbreaking to watch him turn to his mother and say, 'Mama, I want to go home and play my games,' and to watch his mother explain to him that he didn't have any more games. He had lost all of his Christmas gifts.
The Salvation Army and Palmer Home are OSERVS partners. Both provide disaster victims with referral cards to help pick out clothing free of charge. While most efforts are in the community, the group also helps out neighboring counties. OSERVS is part of an ongoing effort to help people of Mathiston who were victims of tornado damage in April 2011.
"For me, the most rewarding thing is witnessing how much the community is willing to give when they learn about our organization and all that we do," Edwards said.
"We learned of one case where a whole trailer was given to a family who had just lost their home, all because we helped spread the word of their situation," Thompson said. "Also, what makes it worthwhile for me is seeing how thankful everyone is when they receive help and knowing that we were a part of it."
OSERVS was formed in 2010 when the Starkville branch of the Red Cross closed.
Tickets are $50 a person and can be bought at the OSERVS office on Highway 12.
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