- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 20, 2005

As it turned cold, dreary and wet Wednesday night, the warm and fuzzy — and let’s not forget scrumptious — place to be was the grand ballroom at the Renaissance Washington Hotel where chefs, foodies and others took part in the March of Dimes Signature Chefs Auction.

“You can’t go wrong with cute children and great food,” said event Chairman Kelley Gillespie, marveling over the fact that throngs of people showed up despite the heavy rain. “This event just keeps growing.”

Last year, 20 chefs participated, 150 persons attended and $52,000 was raised. This year, there were 30 chefs from Washington’s top restaurants, 310 persons came and $93,000 was raised through ticket sales and auction items, which included stays at the St. Regis Hotel, Nationals’ tickets and baskets of fancy foods and wines.

Among the featured restaurants were Butterfield 9, Teatro Goldoni, Tallula, Al Tiramisu, B. Smith’s, Mie N Yu and the Grill, Ritz-Carlton Pentagon City. Dishes ranged from duck confit to tiramisu.

“It’s such a great cause. We would never miss an opportunity to share what we do in support of something like this,” said Matthew Morrison, chef at the Grill, Ritz-Carlton Pentagon City.

The March of Dimes raises money to promote infant health through research, community service and education. The organization, which was founded in 1938, helped create a regional system of neonatal intensive care units (NICUs), said Nate Brown, spokesman for the nonprofit organization.

The NICU is an all-too-familiar place for Tom Lundregan of Alexandria, who attended the event with his wife, Mary, and their son, Will, age 5, who was born at 33 weeks with major health issues, including breathing and heart problems. Will stayed in the NICU for more than two months.

“When your child is born prematurely with a bunch of complications, you’re lost at sea,” Mr. Lundregan said. “I don’t want anyone to go through what we did. … That’s why I am here.”

Will, dressed up as a Hershey’s Kiss, not only attended the event, he also helped raise funds by giving out chocolate Hershey’s Kisses at $50 a pop.

“Getting ‘kissed’ by a preemie — it doesn’t get much better, does it?” said Dona Dei, who coordinated the Kisses fundraiser.

Among recipients of a Hershey’s Kiss was Leon Harris, news anchor at ABC 7/WJLA-TV, who emceed the event.

Mr. Harris was a preemie himself, which is hard to believe when looking at the 6-foot-1-inch, 220-pound newscaster who joked that he could have been as big as his brothers — in the 6-foot-4, 300-pound range — had he not been a preemie.

“So, you see, I could never say ‘no’ to the March of Dimes or anyone else who does great things for children. … Investing in the future is always the right thing to do.”

— Gabriella Boston

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