Carrie Tighe and DR President and CEO Thomas Tighe.

Gail Arnold

Carrie Tighe and DR President and CEO Thomas Tighe.

Vintners Host Benefit Bash for Direct Relief

Santa Barbara Wine Auction Raises $1.1 Million

On February 17, the Santa Barbara Vintners Foundation (SBVF) threw its swanky biennial bash at The Ritz-Carlton Bacara, which raised an estimated $1.1 million for Direct Relief (DR). This brings the total raised for DR since the event’s inception in 2000 to more than $5 million. Goleta-based Direct Relief provides medical resources in about 100 countries and all 50 states to people affected by poverty or emergency situations. In contrast to the extravagance of the evening, DR runs a lean operation, with a 99 percent or better efficiency rating from Forbes for the past 12 years.

More than 500 guests turned out for the affair, which featured The Bachelor host Chris Harrison as emcee, chef John Cox from the Bear and Star preparing the three-course meal, and winemakers at every table pouring their finest wines. Upon arrival, guests strolled the red carpet, mingled, and perused the extensive silent auction under a clear tent on the Ballroom Terrace.

Actor Jane Lynch comes to the event every year and told me that “There’s something very quiet and effective about Direct Relief. They don’t blow their own horn, they show up everywhere, and they don’t leave until it’s okay for them to leave …. They are committed people; I have never seen anything like this before.” She is such a big fan that the Direct Relief banner graces her Twitter page.

In the Ballroom, SBVF President Steve Fennell welcomed the guests. Andrew Firestone, also of The Bachelor fame, gave a rare and entertaining singing performance before introducing Harrison, who shared how happy he was to be back for the third time hosting the event. Fred Brander was presented with the Vintner of the Year Award in recognition of being a pioneer vintner in Santa Barbara Wine Country. His first Sauvignon Blanc harvest in 1977 earned the county’s first gold medal at a major wine competition and he has been known over the decades as the King of Sauvignon Blanc.

DR President and CEO Thomas Tighe shared some of DR’s recent work, including partnering with federally-qualified health centers, with which it had established relationships, in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in Texas, Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, and the Tubbs Fire in Northern California. In a moving speech, Tighe expressed his deep gratitude to the SBVF for its extremely generous support over the years. This “support stands for something far bigger than the numbers we tally. It says something about our species, about you as individuals, about our society. And it’s a privilege for me to be a part of it.” Then DawnMarie Kotsonis auctioned off 10 auction items, followed by a paddle raise that garnered a whopping $300,000 for equipment for first responder agencies involved with the 1/9 Debris Flow.

Last year, DR provided $959 million in aid. More than 99 percent of that aid was in-kind, mainly medicines, medical equipment, and supplies. Similarly, more than 94 percent of its donations were in-kind. The United States was the largest recipient at $187 million. Disaster aid made up 18 percent of the total aid provided worldwide.

In addition to the impressive Forbes rating, DR has received myriad awards and accolades, including being the first to receive a 100 percent perfect score from Charity Navigator and being named by CNBC as the #1 Organization Changing the World.

DR occasionally provides cash assistance to disaster victims, and has committed $300,000 to those affected by the 1/9 Debris Flow. Funds will go to next of kin who lost their lives, injured individuals, and other affected Montecito residents. DR also contributed $100,000 to the 805 Undocufund, which supports undocumented immigrants affected by the Thomas Fire or debris flow. DR donated $400,000 worth of equipment to first responder agencies and has made other in-kind donations.

Direct Relief has outgrown its current facility and is slated to move into its new one, a $40 million state-of-the-art facility, also in Goleta, in May. The capital campaign is seeking a remaining $2.7 million. For more info about Direct Relief, go to

The Santa Barbara Vintners Foundation is the charitable arm of the Santa Barbara Vintners, which is composed largely of growers and wineries. The SBVF raises funds each year at a few events that benefit a number of community organizations. For more info about the foundation, go to

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By Gail Arnold

Santa Barbara Vintners Foundation President Steve Fennell (winemaker/general manager at Sanford Winery) and Susan Thompson.

By Gail Arnold

Event Committee Member Lisa Iscovich and DR Board Chair Dr. Angel Iscovich.

By Gail Arnold

DR COO and CFO Bhupi Singh and Gurinda Kaur.

By Gail Arnold

Jennifer Cheyne and actor Jane Lynch.

By Gail Arnold

Honoree Fred Brander, Brander Vineyard owner and general manager.

By Gail Arnold

Santa Barbara Vintners CEO Alison Laslett and former LA Raiders and Chicago Bears wide receiver and two-time Olympian Willie Gault.

By Gail Arnold

Emcee Chris Harrison.

By Gail Arnold

The Santa Barbara Independent Senior Editor Matt Kettmann and Vintner Richard Sanford.

By Gail Arnold

DR Mexico Board Chair John Romo, Mary Romo, DR Boardmember Siri Marshall, and Bob Marshall.

By Gail Arnold

Au Bon Climat founder, owner, and winemaker Jim Clendenen.

By Gail Arnold

Chris Kleveland, DR boardmember Patricia Aoyama, DR boardmember Beth Green, and Steve Green.

By Gail Arnold

Amy Sim and Santa Barbara Vintners Foundation Boardmember Shelby Sim.

By Gail Arnold

Guests enjoy dinner.

By Gail Arnold

The Bryan Titus Trio.

By Gail Arnold

Guests mingle and peruse silent auction items during the reception.

By Gail Arnold

Carrie Tighe and DR President and CEO Thomas Tighe.

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