“Can you dance? Then dance!” said Patti LaBelle, playfully wheedling the crowd at L’Avenue at Saks Tuesday night, already swaying and bobbing as she belted out one of her biggest hit songs, “Lady Marmalade.”
The scene was the Saks Fifth Avenue Foundation mental health benefit and LaBelle was the entertainment. The 77-year-old legendary songstress, aka “The Godmother of Soul,” also sang two of her other hits, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “On My Own” and dazzled the crowd demonstrating her impressive range and ability to hold those high notes with seeming ease. At the end of the performance, LaBelle’s parting words were: “Keep on raising that money, honey.”
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The Saks Fifth Avenue Foundation celebrated its ongoing commitment to support mental health with a cocktail fundraiser hosted by Richard Baker, chairman, chief executive officer and governor of the Hudson’s Bay Co., and saks.com CEO Marc Metrick. The event raised more than $1.7 million to support the foundation’s mission to make mental health a priority in every community by increasing awareness, improving access to care, building protective factors and reaching communities that are uniquely affected by mental health issues.
Back in 2017, when the company was determining a cause to take on, “We spent a lot of time talking with our associates about what impacted their lives and it was opioids, depression and anxiety,” Baker told WWD. “We realized that mental health was the most important issue and where we as a company could do the most good.”
With the pandemic, “We have to call out the need for more resources and greater participation in supporting mental health,” said Baker. “The last 18 months have really amplified the need to get behind this. It’s been a really tough time. It’s our responsibility to use the platform we have at Saks to do the right thing.”
Saks and its five-year-old foundation have donated more than $4.5 million to U.S. mental health initiatives. The initiative has reached 470,000 individuals with direct mental health support, and over 6.6 million individuals with messages that combat the shame and stigma surrounding mental health struggles. It has also supported efforts at over 65 high schools and colleges creating policies, practices and conversations around mental health.
“One in four people are living with some form of mental illness, whether it’s depression, bipolar disorder, addiction. When one person lives with it, it impacts the people in their lives,” said Metrick, a recovering alcoholic. “But people don’t feel comfortable telling friends or doctors that they are suffering from depression or anxiety. They may be aware of it but not willing to talk about it. There is more of a stigma associated with mental health issues than other health issues like diabetes or breast cancer.”
Earlier this month, Saks celebrated World Mental Health Day and National Coming Out Day with a multifaceted digital campaign in partnership with the foundation’s nonprofit partner, The Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for the LGBTQ community.
As part of the campaign, Queer Eye star Karamo Brown and Chris Bright, director of public training at The Trevor Project, hosted a virtual event on the Saks Live digital events platform, to raise awareness of mental health issues and provide support. Additionally, the foundation developed a “mental health at work” guide for employees with support from another nonprofit partner, Bring Change to Mind. The guide is a tool to support a culture of openness and support, and “demystify paths to a conversation surrounding mental health.”