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| O.C. Benefits

High Tea and More Than Sympathy

October 26, 2000|PAMELA DIAMOND

The event: The 12th Annual High Tea benefiting the Orange County Ronald McDonald House.

Held at the Center Club in Costa Mesa, the afternoon program featured guest speaker Fred Hill, a former Philadelphia Eagles football player. Hill helped establish the first Ronald McDonald House in 1974 in Philadelphia, where his daughter, Kim, was being treated for acute lymphatic leukemia.

"We have 206 houses in 18 countries now," Hill said. "It's a great way to have the whole family together when you're going through difficult times."

The comforts of home: The Orange County Ronald McDonald House, founded in 1989, is a haven for families of children being treated for cancer or other life-threatening illnesses at Children's Hospital of Orange County and nine other local hospitals with pediatric care facilities.

"They [staff at Ronald McDonald House] are people of strong faith who welcome you in and support you when you are really hurting," said Hill's wife, Fran. The Hills, who live in San Juan Capistrano, spent time at the Orange County house after Kim was later diagnosed with a brain tumor. Kim is now in stable condition but a series of noncancerous brain tumors have left her immobilized.

Tea and empathy: Wood paneling and shaded chandeliers provided an elegant backdrop for the recent afternoon tea. More than 200 guests sipped sherry and nibbled sandwiches, relaxing to the harmonic strains of harpist Mindy Ball while waiters passed trays of chocolate-covered strawberries, mini tarts and brownies. Guests were also treated to informal modeling of fall fashions from La Galleria of Tustin.

"It's always nice to come to a party--especially when it's for such a good cause," said guest Judy Rosenbloom. The stories of families such as the Hills draws her year after year. "Illness can happen to anyone," she said.

Giving back: "Now that I can officially close the door [on my illness], I'm ready, willing and able to give back," said Carrie Almond, a former cancer patient who stayed at the Orange County house with her family in 1995.

A junior in college, she has celebrated her fifth year of remission and has returned to the house as a volunteer. "The kids are amazing," she said. "They've had so much taken from them--but they adapt, regardless. Experiencing that really makes an impact on your life."

Bottom line: The tea netted $36,000. Proceeds will go toward a planned expansion of the house, said Patti Widdicombe, co-chairwoman of the tea with her mother, Gene. On the drawing board: a game room for teenagers and a separate suite for bone marrow transplant patients, who must be isolated due to risk of infection.

What's ahead: Christmas Tree Magic on Dec. 3 at the Hyatt Regency Irvine, benefiting the Orange County Ronald McDonald House, Children's Hospital of Orange County, the Make-A-Wish Foundation and United Cerebral Palsy Assn. Call (714) 639-3600.

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