Assistance League luncheon kicks off the holiday season

LONG BEACH - The holiday spirit was sparked last Sunday when the Assistance League of Downey's 43rd Annual Christmas Tree Brunch lit up the Long Beach Hilton Hotel with class, style and beautiful music to inaugurate a very merry Christmas season.Co-chaired by Judy Berg and Charlene Roche with a committee comprised of more than 40 Assistance League members, the brunch was entitled "Celebrate the Season". It featured a bevy of fabulous pre-function choices, including a Bake Shoppe brimming with scrumptious homemade cookies, breads and candies; collectibles from the Second Tyme Around Shoppe; Spirits Baskets with a dazzling array of liquors and fine wines; and a number of intriguing jewelry, clothing and home goods. There was also an extensive silent auction with more than 60 items and a raffle that included five money trees, a $500 cash apothecary jar, and many other fascinating items. Finally, the raffle stretched to the front of the ballroom, which was festooned with a "Fabulous Fifteen" - 11 stunningly beautiful themed and decorated trees donated and created by Assistance League members, the Gypsy Johnson Auxiliary and the Assisteens, and four beautiful baskets donated and created by the freshman through senior classes of Assisteens. These filled the room with the colors and spirit of Christmas. In addition, each table contained a sparkling "Winter Wonderland" centerpiece featuring dramatically shaped glass vases filled with snow, a shining candle and a Christmas tree that changed colors throughout the event. The setting was simply spectacular. "We are very thankful for our dedicated members who gave so generously of their time and talents to make the Christmas Tree Brunch a success," said Assistance League President Joan Frey. "We are especially proud of our Assisteens Auxiliary, who graced this event with their youth and enthusiasm. With them our future is in good hands." The Assisteens are an Assistance League auxiliary for teenagers in the 9th through 12th grades. These exceptional youth develop a sense of community responsibility, self-reliance, public speaking and leadership skills by supporting key Assistance League programs. On this day, they were greeters, helpers, and most importantly, sales people for raffle tickets. Nat King Cole sang that "Christmas is for Children", and the Christmas Tree Brunch was no exception. Although many children won silent auction prizes and all of them were wonderful, several young people made a particularly deep impression. One lucky pair of kids were Sasha and Katie Schmidt, the granddaughters of Downey civic leaders Mary Lou and Don Schmidt, who demonstrated the meaning of pure joy as they bounced and beamed their way to the stage to accept their prize. Just a few feet away from the Schmidt table, young Alexis Romo spoke excitedly with her great-grandmother Yolanda James about her Christmas dream-to win the whimsical "Happy Feet" tree, which was covered with penguins. When Charlene announced that the "Happy Feet" winner was being drawn, Alexis hugged her great-grandma and exclaimed, "I hope I win!" Then Charlene announced the winner, and it was Alexis! Stunned into silence, Alexis became the happiest girl in the world as her smile lit up the entire room. She gathered herself, then raced to the podium to claim her prize with the total delight that only a child could muster. It was a truly magical moment. Of course, the most magical moments of the brunch came during the extraordinary 45-minute performance of the Citrus Singers, the internationally acclaimed choral group from Citrus College directed by Douglas Austin. Combining their traditional holiday program with several new numbers created especially for the Christmas Tree Brunch, the singers enchanted the audience, and especially the children. This special holiday kickoff treat was made possible by the generosity of Richard and Jackie Vinckier. The Christmas Tree Brunch is more than just a great way to start the holiday season…it is a key fundraising component that helps make possible the Assistance League of Downey's philanthropic project portfolio, which includes: •The H.O.M.E. Project, which provides housing for families of patients undergoing rehabilitative care at Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center •Operation School Bell, which provides new clothing and shoes and a school spirit shirt to needy elementary school students in Downey •Kids on the Block, in which puppeteers perform programs in schools covering subjects to which children are exposed, such as gangs, abuse, bullying and divorce •Books on Wheels, in which members deliver and pick up books for those unable to visit the library. This program is conducted in conjunction with the City of Downey Library •The Assistance League Dental Program, which provides dental work to low-income families who have neither insurance nor Medi-Cal benefits •Hug-A-Bear, which supplies stuffed bears to local police and fire departments that are used to comfort individuals during stressful and emotional times •The Annual Christmas Distribution, in which Assisteens and members purchase, wrap and distribute holiday gifts to 32 agencies, including convalescent homes, shelters and nonprofit community organizations •The Scholarship Program, which provides scholarships for selected graduating senior students in the Downey Unified School District • S.A.T. Review Course, which provides teachers to administer the S.A.T. program to local high school students "For those who missed out on providing special gifts at our brunch, we want to remind the community of our Second Tyme Around Shoppe, which supports those less fortunate in our community," Joan said. The shop is located at 11026 Downey Avenue in Downtown Downey. Patrons of the Christmas Tree Brunch included Barbara Hayden of Starline, Inc., Helen Hoag, Supervisor Knabe and the Vinckiers. Sponsors included Mr. and Mrs. Robert Brabant, Mrs. Ruth Lehman, Mr. & Mrs. Sam Mathis, Ms. Mary Terry, Dr. & Mrs Jose Torreblanca and Mr. & Mrs. John Wilbur. An additional 60 members of the community were Gold and Silver event sponsors. After the Assistance League of Downey changed a Hilton Hotel into a holiday haven for the Christmas Tree Brunch, Joan had a message for the entire community. "On behalf of all the members of the Assistance League of Downey, we wish that all our friends in the community will find peace and joy throughout this holiday season," she said. "We hope that as we each 'Celebrate the Season', this will be the merriest Christmas and happiest New Year our city has ever experienced." For more information about the Assistance League of Downey and its philanthropic programs, please call (562) 869-0232.

********** Published: November 24, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 32