A Night Out Benefits Shut-Ins

Pamela Marin is a regular contributor to Orange County Life

The Santa Ana Santa Clauses parked their sleighs at the Crystal Court at South Coast Plaza Sunday night and watched the pile of presents grow.

By dinner time, wrapped boxes were stacked in the sleigh, under the sleigh and spread in a three-foot-deep pile leading to the base of a decorated fir nearby.

"This is what Christmas should be about," said Mary Jane Gessner, president of the Assistance League of Santa Ana, the host of the $100-per-person fund-raiser.

Guests had been asked to bring gifts for elderly shut-ins in Santa Ana. The packages--most of which were food, clothing, toiletries and other necessities--will be distributed by league members in the coming weeks, along with meals provided by the Feed-Back Foundation.

Phyllis Klingaman, who, with Charlene Immell, was co-chairwoman of the event, said of the recipients: "These people are lonely and forgotten, many of them without families. People who live in rest homes tend to get presents and other kinds of attention, but the people who live on their own are really neglected at this time of year."

The guests checked in on the mall's second level, then picked up glasses of champagne. Wafting up from the level below--where dinner tables and buffet food stations were set up--were the sounds of jazz classics and ballads performed by Jake Porter's band.

Cocktail-hour attentions were split between socializing, opportunity bidding and signing for goods bought by silent auction.

John and Anne Gustafson stopped to chat with Brent Wahlberg "because we saw his last name" on his name tag "and it's the same as an uncle of my husband," Anne Gustafson said. "We're Swedish, and Wahlberg's an unusual name, so we thought we might all be related." (Alas, they weren't.)

Joanie and Howard Scott toured the mall with guests John and Anna Ellerbe, who came down from Los Angeles.

League member Joyce Johnston clutched a handful of $2 opportunity slips as she inched along the bidding tables. As she stuffed a slip into a box in hopes of winning a silk comforter, she said, "My daughter really wants one of these, so maybe this is her lucky day."

League members Nadine Hall and Sharlene Rauch were responsible for bringing a wholesale jeweler from Los Angeles to the benefit. Jewelry cases were set up at the base of the escalators, and they were surrounded by deal-seekers for most of the cocktail hour. Rauch said 25% of the evening's jewelry sale proceeds were donated to the league.

Complimentary photos were taken, and among the dozens in line to get them were Mary Jo and Sam Mitchell and Mary-Helen and Dean McCormick.

Also at the event were Claire and Mac Burt, Sue and Richard Weber, Marilyn Hendry and Sandra McCosh.

Net proceeds for the fund-raiser were estimated at $35,000, Gessner said.

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