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Sidetrack hosts 'Havana in Chicago'
by Vern Hester

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On April 30, First Hand Aid presented the fourth annual "Havana in Chicago" at Boystown nightspot Sidetrack. The event, which was sponsored by Bacardi Rum, is a benefit to help and support the needy and disenfranchised in Cuba by supplying badly needed food and medical supplies. This version of Havana in Cuba featured a live and silent auction, a Cuban buffet dinner, live music and dancing.

"Havana in Cuba" focuses on assisting First Hand Aid—who, through its host committee, travels to Cuba and hand-delivers supplies to people in dire need. Although restrictions on traveling to the island have diminished and tourism has increased, the need for humanitarian aid is still a major concern.

Co-hosted by co-chair and Sidetrack owner Art Johnston and producer Bryan Smith, the event drew an energetic near-overflow crowd of supporters and participants. Members of First Hand Aid from Grand Rapids, Michigan, including Executive Director Marc Bohland, drove through the cold, wet weather to attend the event. As guests sampled Cuban appetizers and frozen daiquiri shots, local Cuban soul group Angel d'Cuba performed throughout the evening.

The 2016 event featured a number of fine-arts pieces put up for auction or sale by the artists, including paintings by Nancie King Metz, as well as photography by Jason Kennedy and David Weinberg. Among the other items on the auction block were boxes of Habanos and Cohiva cigars, Havana Club rum, a full-course dinner and service for 16 provided by J & L Catering, tickets for the upcoming plays Fun House and War Paint, eveningwear by Oscar de la Renta, a private party for 50 at Sidetrack, a cruise and bottle of Dom Perignon provided by Papa's Paradise Cruises, and gift baskets provided by the Chicago Cubs, the Chicago Fire Department and the Chicago Police Department.

The live auction got off to a dramatic start with the sale of the cigars and rum, which are not legally sold in the United States. Equally action-packed was the bidding for the dinner for 16, which was locked in such a dead heat that Ted Grady, the owner of J & L Catering, decided to split the prize between the two top bidders. Ultimately, each bidder ended up with a dinner package for eight rather then sixteen. To round out the bidding, this portion of the evening ended with the dispersal of $100 and $50 "goody bags."

Siboney Cuban Cuisine provided the dinner buffet. With the help of Bacardi Rum as sponsor, all of the event's proceeds went to First Hand Aid.

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