On the surface, the Steve Chase Humanitarian Awards gala is an opportunity for fashionistas to show off their looks, hobnob with friends and honor fellow community members at a fun and glitzy dinner with crowd-pleasing entertainment.

At its core, it’s an opportunity to raise money to help care for low-income people and those living with HIV/AIDS. And to that end on Saturday, Desert AIDS Project announced efforts to increase its humanitarian reach by launching a $20 million capital campaign. Donations totaling $5 million to further the campaign were also unveiled.

“DAP’s already bursting at the seams. We don’t just need to open our doors wider. We need new doors, period,” said David Brinkman, CEO of Desert AIDS Project during the awards gala at the Palm Springs Convention Center.

“I’m proud and relieved to announce that new doors are on the way. DAP plans to expand its campus and is officially launching a capital campaign to make that expansion a reality.”

The money will build more affordable housing and address a three-year waiting list. It will also renovate and expand the Desert AIDS Project building to provide more healthcare to those without access. In the end the expansion is expected to increase the number of people the organization helps from “4,500 people today to 10,000” within the next few years, said Brinkman. A March groundbreaking is planned for the expansion.

The event in its 24th years started outside the Palm Springs Convention Center with guests walking one of two red carpets to strike a pose and showoff their glamorous and fun outfits. Celebrity fashion stylist Salvador Camarena, drag queen Ethylina Canne, Palm Springs Life’s Susan Stein and more were stationed along the red carpet to talk fashion with guests.

Carson Kressley served as host for the event, replacing Ross Mathews who is currently competing on the first-ever “Celebrity Big Brother” on CBS.

The Steve Chase Humanitarian Awards is named after the philanthropic interior designer, and as the name suggests, awards are handed out. Tony Marchese, owner of Trio Restaurant and co-owner of AC3, received the Partners for Life award while Dr. Shubha Kerkar, an infectious disease specialist was honored with the 100 Women Award.

Brinkman’s capital campaign announcement came late in the evening after the dinner break and award presentations and just before headliner En Vogue took the stage, followed by Thelma Houston at the after-party.

He explained that Desert AIDS Project is purchasing the county building next door and will begin renovating both buildings and constructing a pavilion to bridge the two and create a 70,000 square foot facility. The organization has also purchased land directly to the south of the current building, on Sunrise, to build 60 more affordable housing units.

“When this expansion is complete, we will have increased the capacity of our medical clinics to 8,000 patients yearly and doubled the capacity of our dental clinic to 2,000,” said Brinkman.

He added that DAP will “nearly triple” the capacity to provide mental health services and be in the position to house 75 percent more people and eliminate their apartments’ current three-year wait list.

Big donations to further the capital campaign were also announced Saturday including a $2 million gift from John Rock who passed away months ago and $3 million from DAP board member Kyle Mudd and his husband Louis Smith.

Add to that Annette Bloch’s $3 million gift from two years ago, Desert Regional Medical Center and Tenet Healthcare’s $3 million donation from last year and the $1 million raised from the gala itself, the campaign is already more than half way to its goal.

“Thanks to every individual who has been recognized on this stage tonight, I can reveal that we are already at $12 million pledged toward making this humanitarian healthcare home a reality,” said Brinkman.

“Now, don’t worry. I’m not here to ask you for more money tonight. I promise. I’m simply here to share with you the excitement we feel about this indispensable opportunity, which is all about the long-term health of our entire community—people living with HIV and people without HIV. This is going to positively impact every one of us,” he said.

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