There were celebrities. There was glamor. And most of all, it was all for a good cause.
The Tom Coughlin Jay Fund Foundation held its Champions for Children Gala in New York last week, raising more than $1.5 million to support families who are dealing with pediatric cancer.
Football stars and TV personalities attended the gala, which included a blue carpet, silent auction, and meet-and-greet.
Coughlin, the head coach of the New York Giants, tells PEOPLE that the gala is one of the high points of his year – and his charity is some of the most important work that he does.
“When a child has cancer, it really affects the entire family,” says Coughlin. “Everyone in the family needs support – emotional, financial, logistical. It’s something that people don’t always think of, and there are so many families who need help.”
Several celebrities have pledged their support to the charity. Dean Cain, whose father is a cancer survivor, opened up about the unseen cost of the disease. “I know firsthand the emotional toll cancer places on loved ones,” he writes in his blog. “You don’t have to be a super hero or even play one on TV to help a family who is tackling childhood cancer.”
Former First Lady Barbara Bush, also told a touching story about how childhood cancer had affected her family.
“There are real people behind the statistics,” Coughlin tells PEOPLE. “And real people are who we’re trying to help.”
And Coughlin has an enthusiastic team of NFL players ready to help him grant wishes to cancer patients. “No one is pressured to go to the gala; guys are excited to show up and support Coach Coughlin,” Giants linebaker Mark Herzlich tells PEOPLE. “He has so much respect from the players and coaches on the team and is so passionate to his team that we jump at every opportunity to return that passion in any way possible.”
Coughlin tells PEOPLE that helping families affected by childhood cancer isn’t solely about sending patients to sports games and One Direction concerts – although that remains a part of his charity’s outreach. Coughlin says it’s about giving practical support to these families as they maneuver their daily struggles.
“There are families who need help every single day. Meals, driving the other kids to school, or just moral support. No one should have to fight this disease alone.”