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On February 15, more than 400 guests descended on the Ritz-Carlton Bacara for one of Santa Barbara’s most elegant, entertaining, and lucrative fundraisers: the Santa Barbara Vintners Foundation’s biennial Santa Barbara Wine Auction. As always, Direct Relief was a beneficiary, but unlike prior years, this year the paddle raise proceeds will go to Community Health Centers of the Central Coast (CHC). An estimate of total proceeds was not available, but the last event raised $1.1 million.
At this black tie optional event, many guests opted in with a formal gown or tux, and enjoyed mingling in the ballroom and foyer. They perused extensive silent auction offerings, many involving wine or winery experiences, while electric violinist Spags provided upbeat, energizing music.
Guests enjoyed a four-course meal curated by Loquita Executive Chef Peter Lee featuring Wagyu short ribs. Thirteen wineries each had a table and poured their own wine for guests. Another 22 wineries provided a table with wine and winemaker (generous Foxen Vineyard & Winery did both). Jim Clendenen and Frank Ostini each poured their 2000 vintages for their lucky guests and other prized bottles were poured throughout the room, throughout the night. Emcee Billy Baldwin entertained and DawnMarie Kotsonis auctioned off 12 enticing lots, many involving wine and wineries.
The Vintner Honoree Award went to Stolpman Vineyards for their generous treatment of their farmworkers. Founder Tom Stolpman wanted his farmworkers to have income security, so right from the start in 1992, he employed them year-round. Early on, as a training program, Vineyard Manager Ruben Solorzano gave a vineyard block to the workers to independently manage. Upon learning of the program and the workers’ success, Stolpman gave all the wine made from the block to the workers. In 2009, the generosity grew — wine from other blocks began being combined with the workers’ block, and all profits from the sale of the wine went to the workers. The same year, management passed to Tom’s son, Peter Stolpman, and the tradition continues today.
Direct Relief provides medical resources to those afflicted by poverty or an emergency situation. It operates in about 100 countries and all 50 states. Direct Relief has received many accolades, including as one of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies twice in the past four years and a 100% efficiency rating from them. Of the $1.1 billion in aid distributed last year, 83 percent went outside the U.S. and 90 percent was for non-emergency situations. Of the $1.4 billion Direct Relief received in contributions last year, 93 percent were in-kind donations.
Community Health Centers provides medical and dental care in San Luis Obispo and northern Santa Barbara counties, focusing on the legions of medically underserved, through a network of 31 brick-and-mortar clinics and four mobile clinics. Last year, CHC served 110,000 unduplicated patients, including more than 40,000 farmworkers. Funds from the event are targeted for a new medical and dental clinic in Los Alamos serving primarily farmworkers that will open in the next month. Previously, the area was served only with mobile clinics.
According to CHC CEO Ronald Castle, CHC serves thousands of people who would otherwise have to use hospital ERs for their medical needs. Direct Relief President and CEO Thomas Tighe shared how “it’s an honor for Direct Relief to be linked at this event with CHC, whose extensive work on the Central Coast is a lifeline for our neighbors who otherwise would lack access to needed health services.” Tighe related that “Disasters call attention to those who are most vulnerable, but those who are in the most need are those who were the most vulnerable the day before the disaster. These are the people who attend [CHC’s] clinics and who you are supporting tonight.”
The Santa Barbara Vintners Foundation (SBVF) recently connected Direct Relief with CHC and now Direct Relief is supplying CHC with medical supplies. SBVF is the charitable arm of the Santa Barbara Vintners, which is a marketing-focused organization composed largely of growers and wineries. The SBVF raises funds each year through a few events. It funds, in addition to Direct Relief and CHC, scholarships for area youth pursuing an agricultural career and enology/viticulture students at Allan Hancock College. The foundation also supports People Helping People and the Foodbank of S.B. County.