The Crowd: 20 years of fighting hunger

Jill Johnson-Tucker and Jennifer Van Bergh have made a secret pact with Dorian Gray.

Twenty years ago the two Newport ladies founded an organization called the Harvesters. Recently in Costa Mesa at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Jennifer and Jill stood before a crowd of hundreds gathered for the 20th anniversary Harvesters fashion show and luncheon raising funds for the Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County. Both women looked exactly as they did in 1992 when they were newlyweds with young children just starting out in life and building careers, Van Bergh in the banking industry and Johnson-Tucker in law.

Joining the duo was another of Orange County's most formidable women, Jennifer Segerstrom, serving as chairwoman of the massive event. She was joined at the fashion show and luncheon by husband, Anton Segerstrom, and VIP members of his staff from South Coast Plaza, including the much-admired Kathryn Cenci, longtime partner of the Harvesters as well as sponsor and underwriter of the chic runway show.

Co-chairing the day was the lovely Susan Etchandy aided by advisory board and executive committee members Suzan Paek, Melinda Serra, Ann Smyth, Lori Anderson, Joni Brice, Cindi Morales, Moira Kamgar, Kacey Bruno, Diane Cotton, Alex Parker, Julia Post and Jodi Salerno.

Actually, the Dorian Gray reference applies to all these women, who began their philanthropic journey 20 years ago when most were in their 20s and early 30s. What's more important and more impressive is that they have all stuck with the purpose. While the Harvesters are considered one of the most fashionable and social groups on the coast, for 20 years they have come together raising more than $5.5 million to support programs aimed at providing nourishment for Orange County residents in need.

The original focus of the Harvesters, which has grown exponentially over time, was to provide hunger relief for families and in particular for children at risk of not having regular meals due to challenging economic conditions. To this end, the group has supported 35 Kids' Cafes situated at strategic locations throughout Orange County, offering after-school snacks five days a week to more than 1,700 children, including at least 50% of the participants who are dependent on the government's free reduced lunch program. At the Kids' Cafes, volunteers and staff members also offer homework assistance and a haven for children who might otherwise return home to a residence devoid of adult supervision.

The Kids' Cafes are one of the programs the Harvesters support in conjunction with the food bank. Joe Schoeningh, director of special projects for the Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County, shared with the audience the crisis of hidden hunger that affects some 615,000 children, seniors and families each month in Orange County. The majority of the at-risk population are children and seniors, and this year there has been a 42% increase in demand for food assistance, according to Second Harvest statistics. The committee honored Schoeningh for his years of service and congratulated him on his planned retirement.

The Harvesters 2012 celebration began in late September with a patron party at the elegant Big Canyon residence of Stephanie and Ken Grody. It was a precursor to the Oct. 11 fashion luncheon, which began with a champagne reception and incredible silent auction in a classic white tent adjacent to the center, hosted by sponsor Cartier represented by the stunning Caroline Jones attired in a very handsome fall luncheon suit. The fashion presentation unfolded in the Samueli Theater with runway participants including Chanel, Chloe, Dior, Pucci, Fendi, Gucci, Marni, Oscar de la Renta, Roberto Cavalli, Ferragamo, Valentino and Versace. An elegant luncheon followed the fashion show in the foyer of the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall.

Spotted in the glamorous crowd were Tracy Bowie, Susan Bridgford, the classy Mary Buckingham, Fran Cashen, Alexandra Chebil, Sally Crockett, Sharon Henwood, Lilly Merage, Allison Olmstead, Pamela Paul, Darlene Weiner, Jamie Shepherdson, Keiko Sakamoto and Laurie Rosenthal.

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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