ATLANTIC CITY — Chrissy DeGennaro said she understood why so many people packed into the Hard Rock Cafe Atlantic City in Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort on Thursday night to raise money for Gilda’s Club South Jersey.

“Gilda’s Club is like family to me,” DeGennaro, of Ocean City, said over the sound of a live band.

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DeGennaro, who was diagnosed with multiple myeloma five years ago, knows first-hand the importance of the club and the effect it has on area families who deal with cancer in their everyday lives.

Thursday was the first Gilda Rock On event. It was the biggest fundraiser ever held to benefit the Linwood-based charity. 

Gilda’s Club South Jersey provides cancer patients with a support groups, education and a social network. The nonprofit club relies on individual and corporate donations and “100 percent of every dollar donated” supports the organization and its members, its website says.

The event included live music, as well as an auction, featuring autographed musical instruments and vacation packages that could be bid on throughout the evening on handheld Apple iTouch machines.

“I think everybody is touched by cancer,” DeGennaro said. “Everybody knows somebody.”

The South Jersey chapter is a nonprofit affiliate of the Cancer Support Community and is one of 57 affiliates in the United States. The organization focuses on being a support system for families and individuals who have been affected by cancer.

“During the day, our day job is making it happen for people with cancer,” Sarah Griffith, CEO of the South Jersey chapter, said as the event kicked off at 6 p.m.

Griffith said the event was three years in the making, and Thursday night was everything she hoped it would be.

“It’s all hats off the Jim Allen and Isabel (Allen),” she said of the evening’s host.

Jim Allen is the Hard Rock International Chairman and Seminole Gaming CEO. Isabel Allen is a board member for the South Jersey chapter of the Gilda’s Club.

Isabel Allen said when Gilda’s officials started thinking about what type of fundraiser to hold and where, the city’s popular tourist destination immediately came to mind.

“I wanted to do a big event to raise money,” she said, adding that because Hard Rock officials are planning to open a casino in Atlantic City, it made sense to also host the glamorous event where a new casino may be built.

Hard Rock International told the Casino Control Commission on Wednesday that it plans to start building a casino next July at the foot of the Albany Avenue entrance to Atlantic City.

Isabel Allen said she and her husband are large supporters of the Gilda’s mission because they, too, have seen the negative affect cancer can have on families.

She said Jim Allen’s dad died at 48 from cancer and her sister is currently battling the life-threatening disease.

Griffith and Isabel Allen said their fundraising goal for the evening was $250,000.

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