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by Jessica Carreras
Forget being innovative. Bill Thomas wants Michigan’s LGBT and allied community to think inside the box.
Thomas serves as president of the board of Steppin’ Out, the organization that puts on AIDS Walk Detroit in Royal Oak each year. The group also puts on several small fundraisers – like bowling events and wine tastings. But this year, they’re adding something a little different.
“Historically, Steppin’ Out has always done an event before the walk,” Thomas explains. “But years ago we used to do a celebrity shoe auction and a lot of people would remember that we used to ask celebrities to donate shoes … Madonna used to participate; we had just a crazy amount of celebrities that used to donate. So what I thought was, ‘How can we update this event and not replicate something we did old-school style 10 or 15 years ago?’ And I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be clever to do something in a shoebox?'”
And with that thought, Step Inside the Box was born.
With the help of 75 donated shoeboxes from Banana Republic, Thomas and his team sent them out to local and national people and businesses, asking them to fill the boxes in any way they pleased – with artwork, with gift certificates, with sculptures – whatever. But there’s one catch: “They must include a red ribbon that signifies that they understand that HIV and AIDS is still in our community and our world,” Thomas explained. “That’s the only qualification.”
Then, at 7 p.m. on Sept. 12 at ZMC Pharmacy in Royal Oak, the boxes will be on display and up for auction to lucky bidders who crave these crafty creations.
Tickets are $40 each and all proceeds will go to Steppin’ Out, which distributes the funds to local HIV/AIDS agencies in need in the area. “We’re noticing that there’s a certain level of apathy because money’s tight, the economy is tight, but the issues are still there – probably more so than ever now,” Thomas said. “Agencies aren’t receiving funding. So here’s another way that Steppin’ Out is trying to create an event that can raise money to be granted to agencies.”
And he believes it will be a big hit.
“In the past few years, we really just focused on the walk and run, so this year we chose not to do a run, focus on the walk and pick up another event,” he explained of the non-profit’s Sept. 20 AIDS Walk. “We’ve been doing events all year long … but they’re small scale. We’re looking to really hit 300 or 400 people on this event. This is a bigger-scale event.”
With some big ideas, too.
Boxes have gone out to everyone from architects to restaurants to political figures. Thomas’s restaurant, Pronto, is doing one. Ferndale Mayor Craig Covey and Royal Oak Mayor Jim Ellison are both contributing. Local artist Charles Alexander is creating a box. Thomas even has confirmation that they can expect a box from the White House’s Health and Human Services Department.
Though only a few of the boxes have trickled back in, Thomas said the proposals that have been pitched to him have been, well, not-so-inside-the-box – which, in this case, is a good thing. “There was no request for them to formally let us know what they’re doing ahead of time,” explained Thomas, though some have let their secrets out ahead of time anyway.
“Capital Grille is doing an expensive bottle of wine with a dinner for four. … Pronto is covering one all in penny candy – the whole thing will be filled with penny candy and suspended from the ceiling like a pinata,” Thomas divulged. “The stuff is so clever. One of the local designers is making wall sconces out of the shoeboxes. So the creativity that’s being generated by this event is just amazing and we’re really excited.”
Thomas was also quick to gush about the space itself. Though a pharmacy doesn’t sound like much of a spot for an elegant fundraiser, Step Inside the Box will be held in the building’s 9,000-square-foot, third-floor loft space. “It looks like New York 30 years ago,” Thomas said excitedly. “You can see all the way to downtown Detroit, all the way to downtown Royal Oak into Troy and Southfield.”
And what’s more – one of the sponsors, Special Events Rental, is transforming the empty loft into a hip party lounge. “It’s going to be amazing,” Thomas insisted. “I mean, there’s concrete floors, chipped up pillars, big windows – it’s like a party space and it’s kind of like we’re suspended in the air.”
So much for this being a run-of-the-mill fundraiser. With a fabulous array of catered food, a unique location and, of course, 75 decorated shoeboxes up for auction, this is one fundraiser that promises to be anything but inside the box.
Step Inside the Box
7 p.m. Sept. 12
ZMC Pharmacy, 1041 S. Main, Royal Oak