The Crowd: A gala for the love of children

She sauntered up to the microphone, which was attached to a clear Plexiglas podium on the fashion runway. Her slinky, fitted, coral-colored silk pants under a matching tunic caught the attention of a very well-dressed audience.

Kristen James, president of the Orange County Chapter of Childhelp, welcomed the crowd to the 28th annual "For the Love of a Child" fashion show and luncheon sponsored in great part by South Coast Plaza.

For nearly three decades, Childhelp Orange County has matured and grown into one of the most active social-charitable groups on the Orange Coast. The credit for this success belongs to a group of die-hard women who have been front and center from the beginning.

Patti Edwards, first and foremost, has led the campaign on behalf of the abused, abandoned and neglected children served by Childhelp. Others in the ranks include Gina Van Ocker, Joy Whitlock-Estrada, Katherine Meredith, Christine Bren, Jennifer Kite, Diana Miner, Nancy Whitlock, Barbara Ganahl, Mary Allyn Dexter, Eileen Saul, Ginni Valley, Cleo Bluth, Debra Violette, Libby Werner, Joyce Simon, Nancy Cardin and major donor Jacquie Casey.

Also among the super-dedicated are the co-chairs of the March 10 extravaganza held at the Newport Beach Marriott Hotel & Spa at Fashion Island. Michelle Langston and Pam Pharris were the duo in charge, working in partnership with Dexter and Dale San Filippo creating and presenting Childhelp's annual Children's Friend Award, which is bestowed on an Orange County resident whose actions have spoken louder than words in assisting children in crisis.

The 2014 honor was presented to Sir Bruno Serato, restaurateur and owner of the Anaheim White House. Serato has, over many years, quietly and consistently become a champion of children and families in trouble, living in motels or, worse, in cars or on the street. His crew prepares and serves some 1,000 meals daily, and in recent years, the charitable effort has expanded to helping "motel families" move into safe permanent residences.

Serato provides first and last month's rental deposits, amounting to several thousand dollars per family. Last year, Serato and donors helped more than 80 Orange County families find safe housing. The Childhelp crowd stood and cheered as San Filippo and Dexter presented the chef, attired in his dress culinary jacket, the handsome bronze Children's Friend statue for 2014.

The day with Childhelp began with a late morning champagne reception at the Marriott before doors were opened to the seated fashion show produced by South Coast Plaza under the direction of community relations angel Kathryn Cenci. And angel is the appropriate term. Dedicated, smart and, above all else, kind and genuine, Cenci truly works for the benefit of her employer, but more so for the community at large.

An extravagant and professional "New York" fashion show raised the temperature. The presentation included the designs of Bally, CH Carolina Herrera, David Yurman, Diane von Furstenberg, DKNY, Faconnable, Missoni, Cavalli, St. John, Ted Baker London and Saks Fifth Avenue. Men and women paraded the catwalk.

A few of the highlights were the classic elegance of CH Carolina Herrera's gorgeous blue and white flowing hostess gown and von Furstenberg's sexy black and white fitted body jump suit. St. John sparked on the runway with its glamorous evening suits. St. John founder, designer and former co-owner of the brand Marie Gray was in the audience enjoying the show with O.C. first lady Julia Argyros. Later in the program, during the luncheon, Argyros handed Edwards a note donating $50,000 to Childhelp, bringing the total dollar raised by the event to considerably more than $250,000.

As the fashion show concluded, doors to the Marriott ballroom were opened for luncheon. Guests dined on chicken Florentine and roasted vegetable Napoleon at handsome tables surrounded by Chiavari chairs. Lovely California spring florals made up of exotic buds and geometric objects centered the tables.

In the crowd enjoying luncheon were the lovely Mary Kay Groff, Donna Anderson, Nancy Baldwin and hairstylist to the stars Craig Brown, with guest of honor and major donor Beverly Cohen. She and Bob Cohen hosted a lavish underwriters reception before the fashion event at their Bayshores residence, and next month in Los Angeles, Beverly Cohen will be honored at a Childhelp luncheon at her hotel, the Four Seasons.

Also on hand for Childhelp were Barbara Cline, Pat Cranford, Iris Frankel, Debra Gunn Downing, Cate Heck, Karen Littlefair, Darby Manclark, Carol Packard, Pam Schmider, Joanne Schwary, Rosalie Puleo, Cerise Casello, Corky Winters and Bev Zukow.

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

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