When Alain Bernard, president and chief executive officer of Richemont North America, moved to New York City seven years ago, he discovered a tale of two cities. “It’s a city of immense luxury in close proximity to immense poverty,” Bernard told the black-tie crowd at The Plaza on Thursday for the annual Valentine Gala benefiting The Bowery Mission.
“The number of millionaires and the number of homeless are both growing at the same time,” Bernard said, citing statistics indicating 70,000 “officially” counted homeless in the city, though there’s certainly many, many more that go uncounted, amid a city where there’s “a million millionaires,” Bernard said.
Bernard, who ran the New York City Marathon to support The Bowery Mission’s efforts to help men and women overcome homelessness and achieve independent living, and to empower youth to succeed, was the sole honoree at the gala, where many in the crowd of 425 expressed dismay over the nation’s mounting homeless crisis in cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York.
Bernard has been a partner of The Bowery Mission since 2013, when he first served a Christmas meal at The Bowery Mission with his family. He’s since introduced friends and colleagues to The Bowery Mission, located at 227 Bowery in lower Manhattan, to support the cause.
“I’m honored and humbled to be part of this astounding organization. The Bowery Mission has helped so many New Yorkers get their life back,” said Bernard. “I feel privileged to live in this amazing city surrounded by beloved family, friends and colleagues, and by everything I need. We all have a responsibility to give back to our human sisters and brothers — those who need our help the most.”
“God aligns with the marginalized,” said James Winans, The Bowery Mission’s interim ceo. “At The Bowery Mission, we experience what is possible when a person who has given up hope is loved well. Neighbors who seem to be ruined by homelessness can be fully transformed, living independently and contributing to our community…This Valentine’s Day, we are grateful to Alain Bernard and all those supporting the Valentine Gala. Together, we make it possible for The Bowery Mission to love well and offer this bright future to many more New Yorkers in need.”
Over the last 20 years, the Gala has raised over $1.3 million for the Bowery Mission, founded in 1879 by the Rev. and Mrs. A. G. Ruliffson. Thursday’s event raised well over $1 million through table sales, the live and private auctions, and some spontaneous donations during the event. Each year, The Mission provides more than 558,000 hot meals, 140,000 nights of shelter, 100,000 articles of clothing and 2,400 on-site medical and optometry exams. The Mission also runs a summer camp in the Poconos for hundreds of children.