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Wine and Food Fiesta delighted guests with a Spanish adventure

VERO BEACH — Guests arriving at Costa d’Este Wednesday evening were greeted by the rhythmic sounds of a Spanish guitar, artfully played by Don Soledad, luring them into an evening that highlighted the fabulous flavors of Spain.  The event was An Affair to Remember, a Wine and Food Fiesta to benefit the American Red Cross North Treasure Coast Chapter.

The presenting sponsor of the event was the Health Promotion Foundation, on behalf of the Jay Morgan Lifesaver Patient Aid Fund for Hanley Center Gate Lodge in Vero Beach.  A number of firefighters were on hand in support of Morgan, a former Indian River County Firefighter who died of cancer in December.  Morgan was also a recovering alcoholic and the foundation was created in his name so that others could be given a chance to fight the addiction.

The first stop on the Spanish tour took place in the resort’s Crystal Room, where guests sipped glasses of sparkling wine and perused an assortment of silent auction items donated by local businesses.

While we were milling around, I spoke with Ray McGowan, a retired Exxon Mobile executive who moved to Vero Beach eight years ago and joined the local American Red Cross board shortly thereafter.  “I arrived just after the tsunami that devastated Southeast Asia and went to the Red Cross office to donate,” said McGowan.  “I met Sarah [Ruwe] and she invited herself to my house to speak with me about their capital campaign.  I’ve been with them ever since.”

Smiling at his remark, Sarah Ruwe, the American Red Cross North Treasure Coast Chapter CEO, said, “Ray has been a wonderful asset; not only through valuable donations but we also get his sweat equity.”

Before heading outside for the tapas and wine tasting part of the evening, guests were treated to an entertaining historical skit, performed by several players from Riverside Theatre, portraying figures such as Christopher Columbus, Ponce de Leon and Clara Barton.

I got a brief history lesson of my own from Robin Lloyd, who served as board chairman prior to the 2004 storms and who has been involved with the Red Cross more than 40 years. According to Lloyd, nurses have been the backbone of the Red Cross, harkening back to European battlefields in the late 1800s and Clara Barton’s establishment of the American Red Cross after tending to wounded during the Civil War.

Lloyd said his first experience with the Red Cross goes back to age 18, when he used his little fishing boat to help flood victims in Louisville evacuate their homes.  “It’s a fine organization and since Sarah Ruwe, this chapter has been on an upward trend.”

The organization is recognized for its disaster preparedness and assistance, but their help in providing emergency communication between troops and family members is less well known.

“When I served in Viet Nam, it was the Red Cross who delivered word to me that my son had been born,” said Lloyd.  “They’re still doing that now; they help families who need to get an emergency message to someone serving overseas.”

When I first met Doris Sleeger years ago, she was manning the Sebastian Red Cross office.  It was blown town during the 2004 hurricanes and she is now the Director of Safety and Preparedness in the Vero Beach office.  “I love it; I like making a difference in saving lives,” she said with her usual enthusiasm.  “I’ve had a few occasions where it’s really made a difference, and that makes it all worthwhile.”

Guests wandered out by the pool for the tapas and wine tasting portion of the evening, thrilled that the breezes coming off the ocean were more balmy than blustery.  Organizers couldn’t have chosen a more perfect evening for a poolside event.

Twelve different wines representing the various regions of Spain were available at stations set up around the deck, carefully selected by sponsors Southern Wine and Spirits, Premiere Beverage and Republic National Distributing Company.

Chef Ray Mumford had prepared a delightful selection of savory dishes to pair with the wines, including luscious Florida cheeses and heirloom tomatoes, mini crab croquettes, grilled baby lam chops and both tuna and local Florida lobster cerviche.

Ruwe said the organization wants to grow this into a signature fundraiser.  “All the money raised goes to support local efforts; fire response and training volunteers to be ready in a disaster.”

The Red Cross sprang into action for Deirdre McDonagh when her apartment caught fire.  “It was January 6th, my father’s 86th birthday, and the apartment I’d just moved into had an electrical fire.  Lisa from the Red Cross told me not to worry, that they’d have a place for me to stay.”

McDonagh related that the Red Cross also provided her with money for food and clothing and helped her to find a new home.  “I’d always thought they were huge and only helped with major disasters like in Haiti,” said McDonagh.  “I had no idea they did things locally like this.  I’m telling you, they rock.” {igallery 163}

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