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Fundraiser at South Coast Plaza helps O.C.'s needy

COSTA MESA — South Coast Plaza might be associated with shopping and restaurants, but the center also hosts Pumpkins and Pancakes, an annual October event that benefits children in need.

Sunday’s installment of the 20-year-old tradition drew a crowd of about 1,200 to

raise money for the Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC) Children’s Foundation, Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Orange County and Orangewood Children’s Foundation.

“One-hundred percent of the money that we raise from this event goes to all the three charities that are presented with us today,” said event organizer Jennifer Segerstrom, who was dressed as a devil in black horns, a long black robe and a spider necklace. “My role with this event is to promote … Pumpkins and Pancakes, to get the word out through friends and advertising.”

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Jennifer’s husband, Anton Segerstrom, an executive with the shopping center, started Pumpkins and Pancakes in 1991. The couple remain deeply involved in the event, which takes six months to plan.

“The charities start the process for this event way ahead of time,” she said

About 100 volunteers, who were wearing brown T-shirts with images of orange pumpkins, helped out with arts and crafts and other activities, according South Coast Plaza marketing manager Gail Ossipoff.

Volunteers came from the charitable organizations, the shopping center and area employers, schools and colleges.

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Orangewood volunteer Kelly Seeman became involved because of her interest in foster care, which Orangewood provides to abused and neglected children.

Deanna Fischer volunteered for Orangewood through her employer, Experian.

“I thought this event will be small, nothing busy like this,” she said. “I didn’t expect this to be so big. It is great.”

For the event, the mall was decorated in black and orange. There were scarecrows, balloons, flower-and-apple decorated pumpkins, music, train rides, a magician and free professional-style photo shoots.

Tablecloths decorated with pumpkins or sunflowers covered tables where guests dined on buttermilk pancakes, sausage, bacon, fruit, pastries and quiche provided by Plums Cafe.

“The food was delicious,” said Jodie Goldstein, an event volunteer.

Even the plates for the children were Halloween-themed — purple and orange with witches. There were people everywhere, with long lines for the food, and the craft tables bustled with children making lollipop ghosts, kitty bags, pumpkin magnets and other items.

Everywhere there were costumed cartoon characters interacting with the children, who were either costumed or wearing festive Halloween outfits, as were many of the parents. Choco the Bear from CHOC, SpongeBob SquarePants and Hello Kitty danced with the kids and participated in trick or treating. “Star Wars” characters roamed and stopped for pictures.

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The children also enjoyed face-painting.

The kids wanted pumpkins, hearts, spiderwebs, rainbows and Hello Kitty, to name a few images, according to makeup artist Maria Trejo, who works for MAC at South Coast Plaza.

“There are a lot of parents and kids here,” she said, “and there are lots of activities going on. It is our store’s first year here.”

Retailers like MAC offered time to entertain the kids and provided items for the silent auction for all the three charities.

Members of the Costa Mesa Fire Department visited in a fire truck.

“The kids learn about what is in the fire truck and climb inside,” said Fire Department Engineer Steve Cathey, who drove the truck. “We come here every year to participate and support Pumpkins and Pancakes. Each hour we had about 150 or 160 kids climbing in the truck.”

Nettie’s Party Pals staged a petting zoo outside the center. They had ducks, bunnies, goats and roosters ready for petting.

“My daughter loves coming here,” Goldstein said. “She woke up at 5 a.m., in costume, ready to go. She was so excited to go and looks forward to going each year.”

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