Save the Chimps fundraiser touches hearts

VERO BEACH — Hearts were touched, and hopefully wallets opened, at Wednesday night’s Chimps Kitchen:  A Celebrity Chef Tasting to benefit Save the Chimps. 

The casually sophisticated crowd that packed the Vero Beach Hotel and Spa’s Cobalt Shoreline Room were there to support what is now the largest chimpanzee rescue sanctuary in the world and the largest rescue effort on behalf of chimps in history. The evening was filled with wonderful food, wine and entertainment, but the soulful glances from poster sized close-ups of the chimps, abused and discarded in the name of science and entertainment, truly brought the organization’s mission into focus.

Save the Chimps was spearheaded in 1997 by the late Carole Noon, in an attempt to rescue 21 chimps, survivors and descendants of baby chimps captured in Africa and used by the Air Force for NASA’s space research program in the 1950’s. Discarded as what the USAF deemed “surplus equipment,” the chimps were sent to live in horrific, abusive conditions at The Coulston Foundation a biomedical laboratory.

The Save the Chimps sanctuary, made up of individual islands filled with climbing equipment and shelters, has continually expanded to accommodate their quickly increasing community and now houses nearly 300 chimps.

Guests wandered through the lovely flower bedecked room, listening to melodic instrumentation from the Key of Life Music and sampling a selection of tapas style dishes from local chefs.  Sensitive to the nature of the cause, chef selections were all vegetarian or fish based dishes.

The artfully presented assortment included scallop ceviche from M T’s Chophouse, macadamia crusted grouper from Bobby’s, Hawaiian tuna ceviche from Oriente, ricotta gnocchi with tuna Bolognese from Cobalt, and smoked salmon towers over potato pancakes from Culinary Capers.  Frostings provided a host of decadent chimp inspired goodies, including Bananas Foster cupcakes and a huge selection of yummy-looking chocolate dipped bananas rolled in various toppings.

This was Philip Flynn’s first Vero fundraiser as Save the Chimps’ Executive Director.  A 12-year Vero Beach resident, Flynn began the position last December.

“The year has just flown by,” said Flynn.

He added that despite an extensive background with non-profits, this was his first experience with an animal welfare related organization.  “It’s a good chance to stretch my skills and take them to a new level,” said Flynn.

Flynn introduced us to Green’s Plus co-founder Lani Deauville, the evening’s featured speaker.  An inspiration to us all, Deauville has been a quadriplegic since a tragic diving accident more than 50 years ago.  Her assistance dog Mexx a magnificent German shepherd, sat quietly at her side, politely accepting the occasional pat.

Greens Plus has been involved with Save the Chimps since it first began, donating energy bars and protein bars, which she said the chimps seem to love.

“I met Carole many years ago when she was getting ready to build the first island,” said Deauville.

“I’m thrilled to be here.  Aside from raising money, we’re here to honor Carole and her vision.   I wish she could see this.  A lot of us have dreams, but she made hers happen.”

Silent auction co-chairs Barbara Sharp and Laura Guttridge had amassed a huge assortment of items.

“Alfredo [Versace] donated chefs’ aprons signed by celebrities and celebrity chefs,” said Sharp, who had creatively painted a few of the aprons.   “There’s one autographed by the Islanders hockey team – and it comes with a hockey stick.”

Guttridge, who was pleased with the turnout said, “I think it’s very quaint and cozy, sharing an evening with like-minded people.”

A brief program included a touching video about the chimps and the sanctuary, narrated by new advisory board member Angelica Huston, and an equally poignant talk by Deauville.

“This is a fabulous organization,” said Clair Brunetti, who was learning about Save the Chimps for the first time.  It’s really quite an operation. “I was talking to one of the people who works with the chimps, and she said they get to know them like their own children.”

“Ten more chimps just arrived today; at 7:30 this morning,” said new Development Officer William Bedwell.  “They will see freedom this Friday.”

“The best part is seeing them first released onto one of the island,” said Sarah Poirier, a Senior Supervisor at STC.  “For many of them, it’s the first time they’ve been out of a cage, and it’s the first time they’ve ever touched grass.  They don’t know what to think; they don’t even know what it is.”

And that’s what makes their efforts all worthwhile.  Carole Noon’s life was cut way too short in 2009, but her compassionate legacy lives on. {igallery 292}

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