04/21/2004 at 12:00 AM EDT
"We always wanted to have the New Yorkers make the event their own," actor Paul Michael Glaser, 58, told PEOPLE about this past weekend's 8th Annual Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation Kids For Kids event. "I've lived in New York long enough to know that Central Park is the heart of the city." The Foundation was started by the ex-"Starsky and Hutch" star and his late wife Elizabeth, who died of AIDS in 1994, after their 7-year old daughter, Ariel, had died of the same disease in 1988. (Elizabeth contracted the disease from a blood transfusion in 1981, and unknowingly passed it on to Ariel and their son Jake, now 12, who is HIV positive.) Since then, the Foundation has become the leading non-profit organization in the world that raises money and conducts research for pediatric AIDS. Sunday's event in the park drew such stars as Hillary Clinton, "The Contender" Oscar nominee Joan Allen, "Sex and the City"'s Cynthia Nixon, Kelly Ripa of "Live With Regis and Kelly" and Debra Messing, 32, the Grace of "Will & Grace." Putting aside her usual wisecracks, Messing told PEOPLE that the highlight of the benefit was being "surrounded by little children and the looks on their faces."