Beats ‘n Eats 2019
The Second Annual Beats N Eats fundraiser for The Robert Irvine Foundation promised to be bigger and better than the inaugural bash in every way—from the food to the entertainment to the names involved. It’s fitting then, that after recruiting a pair of Iron Chefs in Cat Cora and Jose Garces, alongside the inestimable worldly talents of Andrew Zimmern, Kevin Sbraga, local Philly legend Marci Turney, and “Cake Boss” Buddy Valastro, that the foundation posted the biggest single-day earnings in its five-year history, raising $255,000.
“I’m incredibly humbled by the turnout and generosity of everyone involved,” Robert said. “From our incredible donors who dug into their pockets to buy tickets and tables and take part in our live auction, to my amazing friends in the culinary and music worlds who donated their precious time and talent to entertain and feed a very big room full of people. It was a team effort up and down the line, and that money is going to make a real and positive difference in the lives of our nation’s heroes.”
On May 13, the Fillmore concert hall in Philadelphia hosted a full house for the event, a seven-course meal cooked by the aforementioned celebrity chefs, with each course accompanied by a different musical number. An entertainment lineup including Ryan Cabrera, Zeke Burse, and the Potash Twins electrified the atmosphere. Attendees were wowed by rapper/beat boxer Rahzel’s wholly unique skills on the microphone, and cooed through dishes like Zimmern’s sustainably-raised shrimp with chile oil, black bean sauce, poached leeks, crispy fried heads; Cora’s braised short rib with sticky rice; and Valastro’s perfectly moist and fluffy red velvet cake.
But as much as the event is expertly designed to dazzle the senses, the real stars of the night were the veterans. Through video essays and live testimonials, the attendees were given an up-close and personal look at the true cost of war to servicemen and women and their families.
The centerpiece was the story of Tim Donley, who lost both legs to an IED while serving in Afghanistan. Affable and font of boundless positivity, Donley is a singer in MusiCorps, a rock group composed of wounded warriors from all branches of the military. Donley’s singing ability is incredible, a perfect match to that of his bandmates, who sound so good they’ve played alongside the likes of Roger Waters in concert.
Donley, though, didn’t come to Beats N Eats to perform. Rather, he was a special guest who sat alongside Chris Kaag, the founder of the I’m Able Foundation, which provides equipment grants and personal training services to the disabled. From people with physical disabilities to kids with autism, cerebral palsy, and Down Syndrome, all can find adaptive personal training at Kaag’s gym, Core Fitness in Wyomissing, PA. A retired Marine, Kaag is a personal trainer and charity director; a congenital nerve condition—exacerbated by a head injury suffered while serving—cost him the use of his legs. He can stand, but walking is so difficult he is effectively confined to a wheelchair. Nevertheless, he trains hard every day, leads group fitness classes, and raises a money for disabled veterans.
The Robert Irvine Foundation and the I’m Able Foundation partnered to grant Donley a special mobile wheelchair unit—a six-wheeler that’s more like an ATV—that will allow Donley full access to his ranch. (With a retail cost of $12,000, it’s no mystery why so many veterans who could use a machine like this one tend to go without it.) With Donley’s current standard wheelchair, traversing rough terrain hasn’t been an option. Robert stopped the show to thank Kaag and make the presentation to Donley.
He began by asking Donley how well he could get around his ranch in a wheelchair. As is typical of a Marine, Donley understated what is a considerable hardship, saying, “It’s a bit of a thing getting around.” All six guest chefs then took the stage and the six-wheeler was rolled out. Audience members wept. Robert joined them. Donley just smiled wide, thanked Robert and Kaag, and said, “That thing looks awesome.”
Robert Irvine Foundation Director Dave Reid, who was himself disabled during a tour of duty in Afghanistan, losing his lower left leg, said the donation to Donley had personal resonance, noting that he benefited from veteran charities while recovering.
“People pitched in to help me when I got back home and was trying to find my way,” Reid said. “And this is what we demand from every dollar that comes in—that it has a direct impact on improving the life of a veteran. We’re able to ensure that because Robert and I make the time to meet people like Chris Kaag and Tim Donley and we’re able to steer that money to where it can have maximum impact and do the most good. As the Robert Irvine Foundation grows, that impact grows, and those relationships we’ve build with place like the I’m Able Foundation become even more important.”
Shortly after the presentation to Donley, Zimmern took the stage to share a moment with Robert. He urged the crowd to remember that making a difference can take many different forms.
“Big checks are great, but not everyone can write big checks,” Zimmern said. “Tell all your friends about this. Every penny helps.”
For his part, Robert said the turnout for Beats N Eats represented a kind of culmination of his original vision for the foundation—and the start of a brand new one.
“When I created the Robert Irvine Foundation in 2014, I dreamed of one day having a big night like this,” Robert said. “That dream just came true. Now there’s only one thing to do: Dream bigger. Next year we’re going to do even better and make an even more significant impact for our veterans. Onward and upward.”
IN THEIR OWN WORDS THREE CELEBRITY CHEFS CHIME IN ON WHAT INSPIRED THEM TO CONTRIBUTE TO BEATS N EATS
“It’s a really simple thing why I came here. It’s a guiding principle in my life. You have to take care of others, especially those who take such good care of us. In an ironic piece of sad news in America in 2019 we have lost sight of that. It’s not a political issue. It’s a civic issue. The best hospitals in America should be our VA hospitals. The most attention should be paid to those who have made such great sacrifices.
One thing that’s always impressed me about Robert is that he’s always used his platform for a good thing. This is not a new deal for him. This is not a year in the making. This is something he’s believed in for a long, long time.
I was a homeless alcoholic and junkie until I got cleaned up 27 years ago. I was a user of people and a taker of things and what got me well was people sprinkled me with a little dignity and respect and gave me a hug and gave me a hand up rather than a handout.”
“Robert’s my inspiration. Just watching what he does with the military and how much he cares about it makes me want to do more. He’s totally an inspiration for me. The military is something that’s near and dear to my heart, something that’s always been a part of my family. My brother-in-law served in the Air Force during the first Gulf War. To be able to give back to these people means so much. This is the least I could do, the absolute least. Robert walks the walk.”
“What inspires me is this is such a great cause. I really wanted to come out and support my friend who does a lot for US troops and veterans. My family has a history in the military (Cora’s grandfather was a general in the Air Force and her grandmother was a Captain and nurse in the Army) and I know so many people who have fought for our country and the protection of our country and it’s so important to support those people that had to be away from their family and in the way of danger. They’re sacrificing so much for us that it’s very small for me to come here. It’s the least that I could do to be part of something that’s so important.”