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Super Shopping Extravaganza Kicks Off Camper Season For Fresh Air Fund

Originally Posted: June 08, 2009

Edward Callaghan

Vania Prusak; Christl Meszkat, Design Co-chair, Kim White, SFAH President; and Sarah Senbahar, Event Chair. Photos by John Wegorzewski

Southampton - Over 500 attendees from The Hamptons, New York, Connecticut and Palm Beach turned out for what has become the unofficial kick-off to the summer social season - the annual Decorators-Designers-Dealers Sale, Auction and Gala - was held on Saturday, June 6 to benefit Southampton Fresh Air Home. Honorary Chair of this year's gala was Lavinia Branca Snyder.

Soprano's star Aida Turtorro and Carol Ann Sandoval.


For this smashing event, the camp buildings are turned into galleries filled with treasures donated by decorators, renovators and estates, including fine furniture, fashion, jewelry, porcelains, fine glassware, patio furniture, rare wines and art. Spinning through the galleries is like a shopping excursion to Harrod's in London with a stopover at the legendary Paris flea market Aux Puces. Only at eBay prices! Thanks to the efforts of Design & Decoration Chairmen Ann Grimm, Linda Beck and Christl Meszkat and their vice-chairs Gary P. Crain, Christie Hansen and James Alan Smith the settings had a lovely naturalistic look - living rooms filled with magnificent sofas, armoires and desks, bright flowery bedrooms and kitchens with every gadget imaginable.

Welcomes began at the front door where long-time supporters Mildred Brinn, Ann Carol Madonia and Gregory D'Elia, our favorite man about town, steered guests into the main building where the massive silent auction was beautifully laid out. Event Chair Sarah Senbahar and her auction co-chairs Charlotte Assaf, Samantha Boardman Rosen and Catherine Kuhn Price and vice-chairs Emilie Jackson, Raya Keis Knight, Ulrica Lanaro and Sandra Ripert had filled the room with luxury offerings from the finest international designers - from precious jewels to serene landscapes to an entire vintage Barbie doll collection.

Cindy Willis place a bid on a piece of jewelry.

One whole section was devoted to the wine auction where some 40 lots of the world's finest wines drew major attention from the wine enthusiasts. Wine auction chairman Emily Chien Mahoney, her husband Tom Mahoney and Dr. and Mrs. Randall Smith had filled the tables with such wonderful offerings as a 1998 Mouton Rothschild Bordeaux to a rare Alsatian Gewurtztraminer of "Saintly" origin.

There were literally hundreds of items up for bid in the silent auction and bidding was not shy. Many of the auction sheets carried bids placed by guests in excess of their value as attendees truly wanted to help the SFAH to provide the extraordinary experience of sleep-away camp for physically challenged children. The DDD fundraising gala raises approximately 40 percent of the Home's annual operating budget.

With the weather finally cooperating, guests were able to stroll along the pathways of the charming rustic camp peeping into the various rooms in search of treasures. Meanwhile, John Gilman's Taste Caterer's waitstaff made their way through the crowd passing trays of bite size spinach parmigiana soufflé, filet mignon on waffle cut potato chips and plump shrimp. Throughout the rooms, there were platters of sushi and mini burritos to stave off hunger while shopping for that perfect bargain. All the while, literally scores of volunteers staffed the showrooms, packed up rare antiques and hauled sofas and tables to waiting vans for the many buyers. A great deal of the success must be attributed to the extraordinary efforts of volunteers from the community who under the direction of Linda Beck not only staff the event but give up many hours in the weeks preceding in preparing for the gala. Linda and her husband Bob Beck, the evening's delightful master of ceremonies, have worked with SFAH for many years.

Inside the very busy silent auction tent.


As the DDD Gala each year runs the day of the very popular Belmont Stakes, organizers had once again set up a special tent with a large flat TV screen which filled the minutes before the race as the horse loving crowd swarmed in to see if jockey Calvin Borel would do the unprecedented by winning the Triple Crown on two different horses. Riding "Mine that Bird," Borel was clearly the crowd favorite. When the horses shot out of the gate, the audience of very staid Hamptonites erupted into a frenzy only to see the wrong "Bird" move quickly into the lead. Despite their entreaties, "Summerbird" ridden by Kent Desormeaux, the Hall of Fame jockey who was denied a victory at the 2008 Belmont Stakes won redemption and crossed the finish line first, leaving the other "Bird" and jockey Borel in third place. There were groans at first then cheers as everyone saw it as a good omen for the camp that Summerbird would triumph. Bottles of bubbly were uncorked and the whole room celebrated.

Watching the final minute of the Belmont Stakes.

Back to the walkways, "The Sopranos" star Aida Turturro was doing her best to manage lifting a heavy leather ottoman with the help of a posse of pals. "This shopping is hard work," she joked. "I need a massage before I can hit the rooms again", she laughed. Newly separated Countess LuAnn de Lesseps was escorted by Hamptonite Harry Dubin as she strolled the grounds greeting old friends. One small bathroom on the sprawling camp contained racks and racks of mens summer suits and sportcoats from Giorgio of Palm Beach ridiculously priced - white, blue and beige linen suits originally $2,250 were $100 and jackets formerly $1,800 went for $50! Linda Miller-Zellner picked up a couple for her husband, noted author and civil rights activist Bob, saying, "He'll be the best dressed on the author circuit this summer." Richard and Donna Soloway were thrilled to have scored several sweaters and Caroline Lieberman was over the moon having scooped up a pricey Oscar de la Renta handbag at a fraction of the price. When last seen, Cindy Willis was shopping for a graduation gift for her daughter.

In the auction room, the very savvy and swift with the gavel, John Block masterfully handled the sales of a number of fabulous destination packages and one-of-a-kind experiences. Like many of the charity auctions these days, the items were up on the SFAH website for advance bidding or outright buy-in. Block ran fast-paced bidding for such wonderful items as a week's stay for eight in an elegant Tuscan Villa from The Club at Castiglion, del Bosco, Massimo Ferragamo and Alitalia; a Grenadine Island escape from Raffles Resort Canouan Island; dazzling diamond drop earrings from Sidney Garber Jewelers; use of a New York Yankees Luxury Box Suite for 16 for the game of your choice courtesy of Peter and Karen Goulandris and a superb golf outing for two at Bermuda's prestigious Mid-Ocean Golf Club originally designed by Charles MacDonald and later fitted to perfection by Robert Trent Jones, courtesy of Laila and Mazen Jabban and Mr. and Mrs. HB Gianos. All the items drew fevered bidding and substantial prices with the Tuscan villa package pulling a whopping $20,000 for the camp.

Ray Viera, Maggie and Donald Sullivan, sponsors, and Linda Miller Zellner.


Departing guests all left the camp grounds with goodie bags filled with perfect for the summer books, movies and CDS, skin care products and more thanks to the generosity of Mr. and Mrs. Clifton B. Black; Direct Brands, Inc; The Literary Guild; Doubleday Books Club; Book of the Month Club; Columbia House and yourmusic.com; and Magaschoni Apparel Group and Terme Skin Care.

There was no doubt in anyone's mind that the evening had been an overwhelming success in helping SFAH provide physically challenged children with an opportunity to experience what Hamptons residents often take for granted - the sun, the landscape and the sea. As well, the SFAH provides parents and caregivers who work 24-7 to take care of their children and receive a much needed respite themselves.

At the end of the evening, a tired but elated Sarah Senbahar, Chairman of the Southampton Fresh Air Home's 2009 DDD commented: "We are so pleased with the incredible turnout. Given the economic climate over the past nine months, our supporters came out in numbers and were so generous. Now we look forward to the children returning for our 108th camper season."


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