The Crowd: Wallets open for people in need

Organizers called the event "A Red Carpet Moment."

The evening of gourmet food and wine benefiting Serving People in Need (SPIN) unfolded Saturday at the Hilton Waterfront Beach Resort, Huntington Beach. The spectacular benefit, produced by the board of directors of SPIN chaired by Al DeGrassi, executive vice president of Plaza Bank, in association with Jean Wegener, executive director of the SPIN staff, attracted a sold-out crowd of nearly 300 guests in black tie raising an impressive $190,000 net. The money will fund SPIN programs aiding Orange County homeless and working poor citizens.

The 23rd annual dinner gala welcomed celebrity guest chef Helene An and her daughter Elizabeth An, both of the AnQi and Crustacean restaurant dynasty. The An family joined forces with Hilton Executive Chef Jeff Littlefield preparing and serving a fabulous four-course dinner that began with a chilled lobster corn soup followed by a miso smoked salmon plate, an entrée of shoyu-braised beef short rib ending with a passion fruit cream and plum wine tropical fruit tart for dessert. The elegant crowd raved over the dinner, offering the chefs and their culinary staff a standing ovation as they entered the ballroom to accept the accolades of their audience.

While the annual gala is an elegant affair by all standards, its purpose is basic and simple. Funds raised go to support three crucial programs that SPIN has operated in Orange County since Sam Boyce founded the nonprofit in 1987. Richard Crawford, SPIN board member and dedicated homeless advocate, joined his wife, Kim, sharing with guests the purpose of SPIN.

"SPIN operates three programs," he said. "The first of which is known as GAPP [Guided Assistance to Permanent Placement], which helps low-income, homeless and working-poor families with children providing move-in costs for permanent housing. The SARP program [Substance Abuse Rehabilitation Program] enables those in need access to a recovery home. This may be the result of substance abuse, and the road to counseling, employment assistance and case management leading to sobriety and recovery is part of the program. And SPIN's street services prepares and delivers meals, hygiene kits, clothing and referrals to shelters each and every week to Orange County homeless."

Fellow board member Frank Listi, joining his wife, Peggy, for the gala, added, "92 cents of every dollar donated to SPIN goes directly for client programs and services. Further, 85% of SPIN clients who complete SPIN programs return to self-sufficiency."

The evening at the Hilton, underwritten once again this year by the Robert Mayer Corp., represented by R.J. Mayer and his wife, the lovely Rhonda, began with a massive silent auction incorporating hundreds of donations from local vendors. Knock Out Productions of Los Angeles produced this event in the hotel foyer.

The combined culinary talents of the An family and the hotel staff passed a delectable selection of appetizers as champagne and wine flowed for the bidding crowd. Major benefactors participating in the festivities included Wayne and Mary Lou Shattuck, John Rallis and Mary Lynn Bergman-Rallis, Maureen Flanagan, Thomas and Kimberly Miller, Mary Frances Morgan, Paul and Virginia Schloemer, Edward Rimpau Jr., Christine Weiner, Joan Smart, Florence and Keith Smith, and the Dr. Richard Campbell family to name a few.

Significant support for the event also came from the Frome Family Foundation, Crawford Custom Homes, Allardice Foundation, Ekedal Concrete, First Foundation Advisors, Succession Strategies, Capita Technologies, O'Melveny & Myers, California United Bank, First Republic Investment Management, Plaza Bank, Slater Hersey & Lieberman, Tiffany & Co. and South Coast Plaza.

In between dinner courses the most important segment of the evening included the appeal for funds benefiting SPIN's programs. Organizers labeled the appeal "Light up a Life," which included testimonials shared with the crowd by two most courageous individuals whose lives have been turned around in recent months with the help of SPIN.

Donors responded with open hearts and open wallets as paddles rose throughout the dining room as calls for donations were made to support everything from moving a family into housing, paying rent for up to a year, providing counseling with a licensed professional, medical and dental services, job re-entry counseling, food to fill a pantry, fuel for the street services van, even a $50 monthly bus pass for a client needing transportation. The generosity of the donors was infectious, and the staff tallying the donations could barely keep up with the enthusiasm.

To find out more about the work of SPIN visit

THE CROWD runs Thursdays and Saturdays. B.W. Cook is editor of the Bay Window, the official publication of the Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach.

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