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On a cold winter’s night in 1974, a group of inspired friends gathered over a potluck dinner with a single goal in mind: to help families served by Catholic Charities Foundation of Northeast Kansas. That night “snowballed” — and became a spectacular annual fundraising event to provide for the most vulnerable in our community.

On Jan. 20, 2024, Catholic Charities Foundation of Northeast Kansas will celebrate an incredible milestone — the 50th anniversary of Snow Ball, a true legacy of love built over decades and the future of hope that lies ahead.

Peter and Veronica Mallouk are serving as the Snow Ball presidents for this historic year. They will be joined by honorary presidents Jack and Kathy Newman. The black-tie gala will be held at the Overland Park Convention Center and will feature a cocktail reception, sit-down dinner and dancing to the acclaimed Emerald City Band.

“It will truly be an epic celebration of gratitude, love and life-changing hope,” said Lauren Solidum, president and CEO of Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas. 

Snow Ball’s Origin and Continued Legacy

In 1974, John Phillips and John Fogarty initiated what would become the first of many gatherings in support of Catholic Charities. Initially named the St. Martin of Tours Gala, the event started as a modest $25 per couple potluck dinner at the Glenwood Manor Hotel in Overland Park.

“I did not know much about Catholic Charities at the time of the first event,” Ben Zarda once recalled. Zarda, now deceased, attended the first Snow Ball and went on to found the Catholic Charities Foundation of Northeast Kansas’ Ben & Betty Zarda Family Golf Classic.

“Because of Snow Ball,” Zarda went on to say, “Catholic Charities began to be recognized as an outstanding  charitable organization.”

Over the first four years, the St. Martin of Tours Gala raised over $50,000. As the event gained traction, it relocated to the former Alameda Plaza Hotel in 1981, where it not only sold out by mid-December but also experienced a remarkable increase in fundraising. The proceeds raised began to almost double each year after that.

Since the event took place each year in the winter, John Phillips playfully dubbed the event “Snow Ball” — a name that would stick and eventually become the event’s official title.

“As we were leaving the event one year, it snowed. It was a fierce and wet snow — probably about four inches. No one could get out of there, so we all began to shovel,” was a memory often shared by Zarda.

As Snow Ball’s guest list continued to grow, the event found another new home at the Hyatt Regency, later becoming the Sheraton Crown Center. Event funds that year exceeded $104,000. The change in venue also brought a heightened level of elegance, including valet parking, a cocktail reception and a Sunday Mass for those who stayed at the hotel.

Given Snow Ball’s continued rise in attendance and funds raised, its founders sought to expand its reach and impact. By 1988, a new change had been introduced: the Patron Gift. Ticket registrations mostly helped supplement the cost of producing the event. The Patron Gift’s purpose was — and still is — to support the charity through a 100% tax-deductible, unrestricted donation to fund the areas of greatest need.

By 1994, the cumulative total for the first 20 years of Snow Ball reached an impressive $1 million. In 2017, Snow Ball found another new home at the Overland Park Convention Center. The change in location brought about a new era of prosperity. Since 2020, the event has raised over $3 million annually, reaching an astounding $4 million in 2023.

Snow Ball committees were established in later years. Generous supporters, alongside Catholic Charities leadership, dedicated their time and talents to support the event through participation in the Patron and Table committees. The Snowflake Committee was also established to involve a younger generation of Snow Ball attendees. Emerging leaders in the Snowflake Committee partnered with local businesses to subsidize the cost of entry to the event.

“I knew about the mission of Catholic Charities from my parents and wanted to get involved with Snow Ball,” said Amy Barnthouse, Snowflake Committee chair and second-generation Snow Ball attendee. “Snowflake’s goal is to not only create awareness of the event and Catholic Charities programs and services, but bridge the gap between our parents’ generation to help move Snow Ball and Catholic Charities into the future.”

A Future of Hope

Since its founding, Snow Ball has raised a cumulative total of $50,293,855, with 90 cents of every dollar directly impacting families served by Catholic Charities throughout 21 counties in northeast Kansas. It is one of the largest charitable events in the Kansas City area and has evolved into a beloved family tradition for countless attendees.

“For those attending this year’s celebration, we hope that Snow Ball will be what motivates you to want to learn more and further engage with Catholic Charities and its life-changing programs. Funds raised are critical to the services that provide support, guidance and hope to those who need it most,” said Peter Mallouk.

From humble beginnings to its extraordinary impact today, Snow Ball has transformed into a true ministry for good, raising critical funds that benefit Catholic Charities’ 30-plus programs, and support its mission of giving help, hope and hospitality to men, women and children in need.

“Whether through food assistance, housing, education or employment services,” said Solidum, “generous donations to Snow Ball will continue to have an immeasurable effect on Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas’ ability to grow the programs and services that are so desperately needed in our community to walk our neighbors out of poverty.”

To purchase Snow Ball tickets and/or make a meaningful legacy gift, visit the website at: snowballgala.org.

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