A shiny white car pulled into the Westin South Coast Plaza parking lot on Thursday sporting license plates that read: IM4WINE.
The driver--and about 400 others for wine --was on her way to a fund-raiser for the Volunteer Center of Orange County-Central/South, a $35-per-person ticket to gustatory bliss.
"A Toast From the Heart," the group's fifth annual food and wine fest, featured buffets loaded with goodies from eight of the county's top restaurants, complemented by wines of all colors and descriptions (including the memorable "peppery," "herbaceous" and "in the fruity mode") from 20 California wineries.
The dressed-for-business crowd arrived promptly at 6:30 p.m., to pick and choose among such dinner fare as greens topped with charred-rare ahi tuna from Bistango; sushi and Bermuda fish chowder from J.W.'s Sea Grill; roast duck from the Hobbit, and fettuccine Alfredo from Alfredo's Ristorante & Taverna--the top draw, judging by a 20-plus line wrapped around Alfredo's circular buffet.
The party, which concluded with an auction of 61 lots of wine, raised an estimated $30,000, according to event chairman Eugene Anderson, who mingled and sipped fume blanc with Jill Klockner at his side.
Anderson said the turnout pleased him, especially considering how hard it is "to raise money for a behind-the-scenes organization like ours."
The Volunteer Center, of which Central/South is the largest of the county's three chapters, works with the estimated 700 local nonprofit organizations by promoting volunteerism and recruiting volunteers; leading training seminars in all areas of nonprofit management; providing technical assistance, and donating money and other resources.
Executive director Carol Stone characterized the group as "the Kelly Girls of the nonprofit sector," and talked about how volunteerism has changed in the past decade.
"Lady Bountiful of the '70s is gone," Stone said. "The new volunteer is a very savvy person with limited time, who wants that time to be used in a satisfying way.
"The volunteer has changed, so we've had to change our way of thinking. When we do training with nonprofits, we encourage them to have envelope-stuffing-type jobs done by staffers so the more satisfying parts of the work can be turned over to volunteers."
Stone said the Volunteer Center placed an estimated 15,000 volunteers last year--nearly half of whom were men.
Board President Mary Watson-Bruce, an administrator of gerontology programs at UC Irvine, said her 8-year involvement with the Volunteer Center is a natural.
"I'm one of those who grew up with a sense of responsibility to the community," she said, munching pasta and talking with Allan Simmons, a past president of the board.
"It's just the old idea of a barn raising or a quilting bee, but our communities are so much larger now we have had to formalize the process. That's what this is all about."
Among the guests were Cynthia Forster, head of Forster Construction in Anaheim Hills, and her co-worker, Merri Jordan. Forster said she gets "a ton" of invitations to fund-raisers, but attends only the meetings of a business association and Volunteer Center parties.
"It's the cause I want to support," she said simply. "I don't have time to do the volunteer work myself, so this is my way of taking part."