By Liz Petoniak
Photography: Catherine Palladino
The 2015 Lending Hearts Gala brought together 300 guests at LeMont Restaurant to honor those affected by pediatric cancer for the organization’s third annual soiree. ESPN analyst Merril Hoge, the 2014 Lending Hearts Gala honoree, presented the 2015 Lending Hearts Friend Award to former Pittsburgh Steeler Aaron Smith, who attended with his son, Ellijah, who battled acute lymphoblastic leukemia. “The purpose of the award is to honor someone who personifies our mission,” says Vasso Paliouras, founder and executive director of Lending Hearts. “Aaron Smith has really embodied the words ‘lending hearts,’ giving back to the community and promoting the welfare of others through compassion in the fight against cancer because of the experience with his son. His family is truly an inspiration.” The Lucarelli Brothers filled the room with smooth jazz tunes, while attendees perused live and silent auctions, and savored fabulous dinner entrees. Guests noshed on filet mignon; Atlantic salmon; and Chicken en Croute, stuffed with spinach, Boursin cheese, and fresh sage, then wrapped in a flaky puff pastry. Supporters raised more than $70,000 for the nonprofit’s free educational programs and experiences for children and young adults combatting cancer! The organization also bestowed the first-ever Lending Hearts Ambassador Award to middle school student Sydne Ballengee.