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Group Brings Christmas to the Neighborhood : Queen Mary Site of Fashion Benefit for Navidad en el Barrio

November 27, 1986|JEANNINE STEIN | Times Staff Writer

Navidad en el Barrio kicked off its 1986 food and toy giveaway with a benefit fashion show and auction at the Queen Mary that drew about 400 people to the ship's Grand Salon.

For a ticket price of $30, guests got a glimpse Saturday of celebrities (emcees Constance Towers and Bernie Kopell, Ricardo Montalban, Fern Fitzgerald and Mabel King, who sang), holiday fashions from J. C. Penney modeled by pros, plus several staffers from local Spanish language television station KMEX Channel 34.

KMEX is the major sponsor of Navidad en el Barrio ("Christmas in the Neighborhood"), a program begun 15 years ago by the station's president and general manager Daniel Villanueva. "I was approached by some community leaders," he explained, "who said that some of the very poor didn't know how to gain access to organizations that would help them. Many were children of new immigrants."

The organization was first called Operation Navidad in 1972, and money raised from the first telethon went toward purchasing toys for barrio children. The organization became incorporated in 1974, changed its name to Navidad en el Barrio and expanded to include food as well as toys.

Villanueva targeted the program toward the neediest families and individuals in various communities. The station still raises the biggest chunk of money through its annual telethon; this year it's on Dec. 7 and Villanueva hopes to raise at least $250,000 (last year's take was $205,000). There are at least ten major corporate sponsors.

Items for 17,000 Families

According to Sandra Strickland, Navidad president and KMEX station manager, the program plans to distribute items to 17,000 families (up from 15,000 last year), or about 80,000 people. The giveaway will take place at 41 sites (community centers, shelters, boys' and girls' clubs, churches) in and around Los Angeles the week before Christmas, including Santa Ana, Orange, Pacoima, Pasadena, Long Beach, Santa Barbara, Van Nuys and Lancaster. Applicants are screened by each community organization.

The amount of food and toys varies with each family, but the average donation contains 25 items and includes staples like potatoes, rice, dried beans and canned goods--enough, said Strickland, to feed a family for a week. Toys for children are included, too.

"The people we serve are basically Latino," she explained, "but we draw no lines. We also deal with Vietnamese, blacks, and many senior citizens."

Strickland added, "All I know is what it does for me. I'm real snug at home on Christmas. I know there are gifts under the tree. But I have to put all that aside, because I know it's not the same for everyone."

Spirited Fashion Show

Saturday's event, which was totally underwritten, raised about $15,000 for Navidad (about $3,000 came from the auction). The spirited fashion show included sophisticated sweater sets in jewel tones and pastels, the citified look of red and black suits and dresses accessorized with old-fashioned touches of hats and gloves, and glittery nighttime looks like sequined and beaded sheath dresses and loads of lame.

Among the items that Constance Towers, Fern Fitzgerald and Bernie Kopell auctioned off were VCRs, tickets to the taping of "The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers," an answering machine and television sets, one purchased by Ricardo Montalban for $275. The actor also bought a toy car.

After the auction Montalban recited "A Visit From St. Nicholas" (known also as " 'Twas the Night Before Christmas"). Said Montalban earlier, "I've been involved with Navidad for about three years now. Why? It's self-evident. Children and senior citizens are in such need of some expression of love and joy at Christmas."

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