L.G.B.T. drop-in center raises a hurricane of cash

Photographer Mike Ruiz and actress Ally Sheedy hosted a fundraiser for the Ali Forney Center at Industry bar on W. 52nd St. on Sunday. Photos by Sam Spokony

BY SAM SPOKONY  |  After losing a vital Chelsea office to flooding caused by Hurricane Sandy, an organization that provides housing and services to homeless L.G.B.T. youth across New York City has already raised upwards of $200,000 — more than half the money it needs to move forward.

It’s a huge turnaround, one that took place over only a couple of weeks, and things had initially looked grim.

Plans for the Ali Forney Center, which was founded in 2002 and has multiple housing sites in Manhattan and Brooklyn, were thrown into disarray when its Manhattan drop-in center on W. 22nd St., between 10th and 11th Aves., was completely destroyed after being smacked by a storm surge and filling with 4 feet of water.

A.F.C. was already preparing to move from that 1,200-square-foot facility to a larger 9,000-square-foot space in Harlem, at W. 125th St. and St. Nicholas Ave., but the actual transition was still months away when Sandy struck. So the center’s staff had to scramble, first to set up a temporary office — which they were able to do at the L.G.B.T. Community Services Center on W. 13th St. — and then to raise funds to adequately deal with the ruined 22nd St. center and expedite the process of moving to Harlem.

Carl Siciliano, A.F.C’s founder and executive director, explained that the organization will need about $400,000 to do that, adding that he’s been happily surprised by the outpouring of support that’s led him past the halfway point so quickly.

“I’ve been blown away,” Siciliano said. “We’ve never had so much money come in within such a short period of time.”

The relief effort got a big boost on Sunday, when actress Ally Sheedy and celebrity photographer Mike Ruiz hosted a fundraiser for A.F.C. at Industry, a gay bar on W. 52nd St. There was a $20 donation as a cover at the door — some people gave much more — and Industry donated all of the money spent on drinks from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Amidst some buff, scantily clad guys selling raffle tickets, Sunday’s turnout was massive, as hundreds of backers cycled through the bar, including some other notable faces within the city’s L.G.B.T. scene.

Corey Johnson, the Community Board 4 chairperson and City Council candidate for District 3, was on hand to offer some words of support, supplementing his constant presence at the forefront of issues like this.

“What we’re doing here now is so important because the destruction of this center was an unspeakable loss,” Johnson said. “Above all else, that drop-in point was vital to our entire community.”

MSNBC news anchor Thomas Roberts, right, with his husband Patrick Abner, who recently got hitched, turned out to support the cause.

MSNBC news anchor Thomas Roberts showed up to support the cause on Sunday alongside his husband Partick Abner. They’d just married on Sept. 29. Drag queen comedian and singer Marti Gould Cummings was also in attendance, revving up the crowd before eventually launching into a spirited rendition of “Tomorrow.”

Other big names included Padma Lakshmi, host of the “Top Chef” TV show, and the married fashion design duo of Jeffrey Costello and Robert Tagliapetra.

Within the crowd of supporters, this reporter also spotted Dan Barasch, one of the creators of the proposed Lowline project, which aims to place the world’s first underground park beneath the foot of the Williamsburg Bridge on the Lower East Side.

Siciliano said that, between donations at the door and drink purchases at the bar, Sunday’s event raised a total of $33,000.

In addition, A.F.C. board member Bill Shea and his husband Frank Selvaggi pledged to match that amount with their own $33,000 donation. Selvaggi, a CPA and founder of a high-profile accounting firm for the entertainment industry, was also a board member of the Empire State Pride Agenda for six years.

Sheedy, an honorary A.F.C. board member who has been an outspoken supporter of the organization for years — her daughter is a lesbian — spoke briefly on Sunday to remind everyone of the important and fundamental service to which they were contributing.

“Without that drop-in center, so many young people simply don’t have a safe place to go,” Sheedy said. “We need to continue providing that kind of safe space, and the basic services that go along with it, to kids who have no other option just because of their sexual orientation or sexual identification.”

Sunday’s fundraiser follows a series of other big donations for A.F.C. immediately following the destruction of the 22nd St. center. The organization took in around $100,000 in online donations just days after the hurricane struck, after celebrities like Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Goldie Hawn tweeted their support.

While Siciliano said on Monday that a timeline for opening A.F.C.’s new Harlem drop-in center was still somewhat unclear, and also acknowledged that it will take a great deal of additional time and effort — along with more money — to complete the accelerated move, he added that the immense support has reminded him of the resiliency of New York’s L.G.B.T. community.

“I know we’re going to come out of this stronger,” Siciliano said. “The core of this community is even stronger than a hurricane.”