Twenty-three years after Nancy Caminiti and Patty Biggio began an annual fundraising dinner that raised nearly $4 million to combat domestic violence and sexual abuse, the Astros Wives Black Ties and Baseball Caps Gala is no more. Two key factors led to the demise of the annual event: The Astros Wives Organization lost its unofficial backing of the Astros, who are focusing their charitable foundation in other areas, and the group was faced with a younger baseball team with fewer spouses to carry the torch. But the gala, a fixture on the local baseball scene, did not go quietly amid an uproar on social media and pointed statements about the wives organization from the Astros. The Astros Wives Organization is a nonprofit group not technically affiliated with the club — although as recently as 2011 its events were promoted on the Astros’ website. In January, Astros owner Jim Crane told the event’s organizer that the Astros would be taking over the gala. “Judy as discussed our foundation will handle the event this year,” Crane told Judy Nichols, who organized the event, in a Jan.25 email. “We will not need your services moving forward. We appreciate what you have done in the past. Meg Valliancourt (sic) is our new executive director of the Astros In Action Foundation and you can hand this off to her. Thanks Jim Crane.” Two weeks later, Nichols received a letter from Jeremy Monthy, the president of the Astros Foundation, stating that the organization did not have any plans to hold or host the gala and instead would be focusing its efforts on youth baseball programs to serve at-risk children and inner-city teens. Expense ratio at issue When KHOU.com reported Monday evening that the Houston Area Women’s Center, which had been the recipient of the gala’s charity for years, was struggling to make up the lost donations, the issue was back in the public eye. “I want to be very clear it was the Astros Wives Organization, which was a separate charitable organization, that conducted the gala,” said Houston Area Women’s Center president Rebecca White. “It was not the Astros baseball team or the Astros Foundation that put the gala on. “It was a very valued, treasured relationship over those 23 years. Over that period of time we received over $4 million that did an amazing amount of good for the women, children and men that we serve. The Astros Foundation’s decision to change their charitable direction, we understand it and respect that decision. It was totally theirs to make.” But as public opinion on social media was turning against the Astros, the team released statements that questioned the integrity of the wives organization. “While we were in the process of deciding on our new strategic focus, the Astros Foundation also reviewed details of the wives gala and its budgeting, culled from recent publicly available tax returns,” said Vaillancourt, the team’s senior VP of community relations. “We learned that in recent years, in our opinion, it appeared far too much of the funds raised by the gala seemed to go towards expenses, rather than to the charity.
Uproar follows after Astros put end to wives gala
Houston Chronicle | May 15