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Friday, Apr 20, 2018
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Tampa auxiliary’s gala benefits student service PhoneFriend

TAMPA – Are you yearning to take in the thrills of Las Vegas but can’t bear the time or expense of traveling there to make it happen?

The Northside Mental Health Center Auxiliary believes it has the perfect solution. Best of all, it’s one that also will benefit public school students throughout Hillsborough County.

The auxiliary is set to host the 26th annual Puttin’ on the Glitz, beginning at 6 p.m. Nov. 15 inside the T. Pepin’s Hospitality Centre, 121 N. 50th St. in Tampa. The theme for the evening is “A Night in Vegas.”

The designated beneficiary of money raised from the evening’s event is Northside’s one-of-a-kind PhoneFriend program, an on-site complimentary service offered to more than 84,000 elementary-age children enrolled in Hillsborough County’s public schools. Cheri Knapp, who is in charge of silent auction effort, is also the coordinator.

Radio personality Jack Harris, of the long running WFLA 970 AM Tampa Bay magazine show, will emcee the event.

The elegantly casual affair will include complimentary wine and beer, a cash bar, a sit-down dinner, and casino games, all operated by professional dealers.

The Sugartime Singers, an all-male quartet, will stroll from table to table crooning a mix of tunes intended to please the ears of the even most discerning music lovers.

In addition, a live and silent auction are on tap with an array of donated items for guests to bid on. Among those featured in the live auction are a ride in the Goodyear blimp, a week’s stay at a beach house in Panama City overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, and another one-week stay in a five-bedroom estate in Costa Rica, valued at $4,000.

“We hope they will go for more than a bargain,” said Joyce Meitin, an auxiliary charter member who together with Naomi Singleton, is co-chair of this year’s event.

An assortment of themed baskets, four passes to Busch Gardens, two tickets to the Outback Bowl and several gift certificates donated by area businesses will make up the list of items in the silent auction.

Meitin said the program netted $30,000 from last year’s gala, an amount provided after all expenses were paid, an advance deposit was put down to hold the Pepin facility for this year’s event and a small amount was put into the auxiliary’s reserve account to cover any other costs.

PhoneFriend consists of trained high school and college volunteers who are on hand to answer calls from latchkey kids whose parents work and are not there when the youngsters come home from school.

Most calls are homework related but others are from children who say they are bored, lonely, or scared, Knapp said.

“Also some kids call because they’ve developed little friendships with the volunteers,” Knapp said. “That another neat aspect of this program.”

Because Northside, a nonprofit organization, receives no state or federal funding, the money donated by the 65-member auxiliary helps sustain the program.

It offsets the cost of printing and distributing PhoneFriend brochures and refrigerator stickers students take home; it helps pay utility fees and other office-related expenses; and it provides a portion of Knapp’s salary.

“Anything that helps children is a good cause,” said Singleton, also a longtime auxiliary member who has co-chaired the event several times.

Northside’s executive director Marsha Brown Lewis is grateful for all the auxiliary provides to the organization.

She noted that in addition to funding PhoneFriend, the all-volunteer group of men and women sponsor Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners and provide Christmas stockings and Easter baskets for children served by the center.

The auxiliary, she added, also oversees a clothes closet for patients in need.

“But the PhoneFriend program is one I’m very proud of,” she said. “It’s a great partnership with students throughout the community and one in which our student volunteers earn community service hours.”

The cost of the gala is $75 per person and reservations must be made by Nov. 4. To do so, call (813) 988-7756.

Joyce McKenzie can be reached at [email protected]

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