Smooches for charity

By Trevor Ballanger

Cupid’s arrow has hit a soft spot in the heart of Chicagoans, who on Valentine’s Day will be taking a shot at charity—with a kiss.

Studio Paris, 59 W. Hubbard St., will be rolling out the red carpet for a fundraiser event on Feb. 14 to support the Primo Center in ending homelessness in women and children. There’s no reason a little generosity for fellow man can’t come with some recreational mouth-to-mouth in the process. In fact, karma could even come back to give you a few prizes. The Red Hot Midnight Kiss is a charity event just in time for the cities love birds and philanthropists.

Event creator Trish Hoffman said it would be a good way to give young entrepreneurial spirits a chance to support a charity that they may have otherwise not known about. All donations will be going to the Primo Center, 4241 W. Washington Boulevard, an organization fighting to end homelessness. The center focuses on helping women and children because female oriented shelters aren’t as common.

“I think it’s great that we have such committed board members participating in this event,” said Christine Achre, chief executive officer of the Primo Center. “It’s great to get them out, showing support for the center [and] doing an event that I think is going to be very fun.”

Kissing on Valentine’s Day comes casually enough, so the two used that as their biggest focus. Hoffman said they created a kissing contest and hired a “wrangler” to invite couples to participate on camera. All the kisses were then launched on and received more than 30,000 hits.

Five finalists were selected from the contest and invited to the event. There, they will again compete with five new couples selected randomly based on their ticket level. The top three winners will receive prizes ranging from an expenses-paid trip for two to the Ritz Carlton in South Beach, Miami, to a romantic dinner for two at Francesca’s on Chestnut in Chicago.

Trying to host a charity event on a budget proved to be a challenge for the coordinators. This is the second time since 2007 that the event has been held, this time with some minor economical changes. Instead of a red carpet celebrity, Hoffman and her partner, Jeff Fisher wanted clever innovations to make an event that would be unique and appealing. In lieu of goody-bags, guests will be welcomed with a photo-kissing-booth and have their pictures taken on the red carpet. They were also assisted by various donations, including drinks from Effen Vodka and Argus Beer.

Shelley Cooper, development officer for Primo Center, said she’s thankful for an event like Red Hot Midnight Kiss because it allows the shelter to continue making programs that break the cycle of homelessness. Cooper attributes Primo Center’s success to its belief in “wrap-around” style accommodations. These include employment outreaches, mental heath, childcare and financial literacy programs.

The interim-based housing program serves more than 40 families a year. At one time, five to nine families may stay in the shelter at a time. The average length for a stay is four months, but the residents are not required to leave if the time is exceded. Residents are allowed to stay until they are able to find a home, preventing perpetual homelessness for mothers and their children.

“The uniqueness about the Primo Center is [that] it can be used as a role model on the national level of how moms can really be treated and transform their lives,” Hoffman said. “We help them pull themselves up by their bootstraps.”

Ticket prices for the event were also taken into consideration with the shelter in mind. Tickets start at $50, which covers one night’s housing cost for a resident. Hoffman said the tickets have been selling well on All VIP tables have sold out, but general admission and “kissing couples” tickets are still for sale.

The event is expected to surpass the $100,000 it raised after it’s first run in 2007. With assistance from the media and cash sponsors, a television program depicting the work that went into the making of a charity fundraiser is in the works.

“We’re just focusing on everything that can go to the center,” Hoffman said. “That’s our dream machine.”

General admission is $50, VIP “kissing couple” tickets are $150 and a VIP group package is $500. General tickets include 2 Effen cocktails and unlimited Hor d’oeuvres, while VIP tickets include unlimited Effen drinks and Hor d’oeuvres. Tickets may be purchased online at