If you had the chance to walk into The Rockleigh the evening of December 3rd, 2015, you would have seen it buzzing with women, dressed to the nines, sipping wine or cocktails, shopping, and enjoying great food and entertainment. Within that crowd of more than 400 women, two especially stood out, as they feverishly worked the well-adorned rooms in an attempt to raise money to help people they may never even meet. The truth is that we all have a mission in life. If you had caught a glimpse of cousins Donna DeCandido and Maryanne Puccio that evening, you would have quickly understood their special calling.

Both Donna and Maryanne were born in Paterson. At first glance, though, it’s easy to assume that these ladies, who now reside in Montvale and Rockleigh, respectively, had grown up hanging in malls instead of learning on Paterson’s not-so-friendly streets.

Yet these remarkable women—always dressed to impressed, hair done up and nails finely manicured—are proud to tell you they’re products of Passaic. They know how blessed they are, and they want to reach back to their roots to give back. Since being born at St. Joseph’s Hospital, their lives have come full circle; they’ve forged a bond with that hospital that will surely be evident as they co-chair their second Fashion with Compassion fundraiser on March 2nd, 2017 at The Rockleigh.

This isn’t the pair’s first go-around at organizing a great event, however. Maryanne, whose husband and family own The Rockleigh, has been involved in throwing thousands of bar and bat mitzvahs, weddings and fundraisers throughout the years. Donna, who Maryanne credits as “the driving force behind all of this,” is the unstoppable force of philanthropy that attracts more and more people every year clamoring to be a part of her initiatives. United, they make a formidable team for good.

The fundraiser’s beginning can be traced back several years. Until now, it was called Wine, Women & Shoes, and although Donna and Maryanne were key figures in growing the event year after year, they were dismayed to realize that some of the money they were raising was going to the WW&S company, rather than to those who truly needed it most. Determined to rectify this, this year, under their new name of Fashion with Compassion, Donna and Maryanne are doing it all themselves—and they promise it’s going to be better than ever.
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The name may be different, but the purpose remains the same: Raise as much money as possible for St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital. However, their devotion to the children at this hospital goes way beyond writing checks and raising funds. It’s evident in their many visits to the hospital to visit its young patients, provide pizza parties, put smiles on the faces of children and their parents alike at a time when a smile is hard to come by, and most importantly, show these strangers that there are people in this world who care about them, even if their lives never cross paths again.

Although these two Northeast Bergen County residents are often asked, “Why St. Joseph’s when there are so many hospitals close by?” Maryanne and Donna have a ready answer. Not only are their roots in Paterson, but they also know many other current Bergen County residents who started from there as well. So, as they see it, now it’s their turn to return some of that love to the place they once called home.

That’s not to say Donna and Maryanne aren’t active in their communities here, too. At this point, it’s no secret that Donna can’t say “no.” When asked to be involved in this, or donate to that, or organize another fashion show fundraiser for 500 people only four short weeks after she hosts one of her own, Donna never fails to rise to the occasion.

Both Donna and Maryanne have infectious personalities. The moment you meet them, you just want to ask, “What can I do to help?” You better mean it, too, because they’ll put you to work. Just take a look at their huge committee, consisting of friends, family and individuals who have seen what the dynamic duo can accomplish and now want to be a part of it, and you’ll begin to realize what makes the event such a special night.

Attracting 400 to 500 people to a fundraiser has its challenges, but the relationships this power duo have formed with many people, families and businesses in our Bergen County communities have made pulling it off so much easier. If the cocktails and entertainment aren’t getting you to the event, the shopping surely will.

Local boutiques such as Suite 201, South Moon Under, and powerhouses like Neiman Marcus host their own pop-up shops within The Rockleigh’s grand rooms, with a percentage of each sale going directly to the Children’s Hospital. But unlike some of the less stellar shopping fundraiser events, Fashion with Compassion is a standout, bursting with fun, a variety of activities and offerings, and enthusiastic crowds.

This year, the crowds are likely to be bigger and more diverse than ever. While in past years the focus has been primarily on women, last year’s event taught Donna and Maryanne that it’s not just women who are interested in their cause or their party. Plenty of men were hanging about, talking with the guys from Sal Lauretta for Men or bidding on incredibly cool silent auction prizes. So this year, the enterprising pair is making a more concerted effort to appeal to the men. And, helped by Donna’s teenage daughter, Alexa, the duo also aims to attract a younger crowd by lowering the entry age to 16 in the hopes that more women will bring their daughters.

Although Donna and Maryanne have surely earned the “Wonder Women” moniker, they are quick to point out that, for them, it all starts at home. Donna credits her husband, Rich, with being her rock, especially when coping with all the pre-event stress. She also benefits from Alexa’s unwavering daughterly encouragement.

For Maryanne, Fred is the cool-and-collected husband with the rare ability to make everything seem doable even in the midst of the often-overwhelming chaos of planning an event. When he’s unavailable, her three children, Gianna, Alyssa and Joey, serve as grounding reminders of the beauty of life; they make her commitment to St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital even stronger.

If past events are any indication—and we’re betting they will be—when this March 2nd rolls around and the doors of The Rockleigh open, the crowds will throng in. The boutique shopping area will be buzzing, every item bought leading to more money raised. The silent auction items, unlike the predictable offerings you’ve come to expect at other fundraisers, will no doubt boast a long list of people vying to outbid one another. The anticipated 500 attendees will be eating, shopping, drinking and laughing. And from the corner of your eye, you’ll be sure to spot Donna and Maryanne—the pair of cousins who brought everyone there—tirelessly working the room.

Everything you’ll see and enjoy will be testament to their hard work, dedication and love. Love for their families, love for their communities and love for the many children they are able to help at St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital. For some guests, it will be just another wonderful night out. For Donna and Maryanne, it might just be the reason they were put on this Earth.

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