As Hollywood A-listers gathered to celebrate the 82nd Annual Academy Awards, dozens of local movie lovers did the same Sunday night at the 22nd annual Napa Valley Academy Awards Gala at Robert Mondavi Winery.
A red carpet welcomed guests into the party, giving them a small sense of the VIP treatment offered to those who attended the big show in Los Angeles’ Kodak Theatre.
The gala is a fundraiser for Queen of the Valley Medical Center’s CARE Network, which is part of the hospital’s community outreach division. The CARE Network supports cancer patients and those who are diagnosed with HIV/AIDS.
Partygoers paid the general admission of $25, which included the opportunity to taste dishes from 27 of the valley’s most celebrated chefs, or $75 for VIP treatment, which included the benefits of general admission along with wine and a seat at one of the tables in the VIP section.
As hosts Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin provided comic relief to the millions of television viewers who tuned into the show, talk of who would win an Oscar circulated throughout the winery.
“I think Sandra Bullock is going to win, it would be good to see her win,” said Vic Vasquez, vice president of Barrel Blasting who was among the 350 or more guests at the gala. Bullock was up for a Best Actress in a Leading Role award for her work in “The Blind Side.”
Napa resident Gregg Liebgold said he had an opportunity to view a private screening of “The Hurt Locker” before it hit theaters and wanted Kathryn Bigelow to walk away with a Best Director award. Eddie Chong said he wanted to see Meryl Streep win Best Actress for her portrayal of culinary great Julia Child in “Julie & Julia,” but said the food was the star of the gala.
Event organizer Chris Edwards recalls that the gala, now in its 22nd year, began with some friends who loved the Oscars. “It started as a house party 28 years ago and basically as the first fundraiser in Napa Valley for AIDS funding,” he said. “At the time, AIDS was new and they were discovering the disease. Hospitals were scared; they didn’t know what to do.”
Of the 300 or more individuals that the CARE Network serves, about 70 are HIV/AIDS patients, said Dana Codron, executive director of the Queen’s Community Outreach Department. The remainder of the network’s clients are cancer patients and those who are battling chronic illnesses.
“Our mission at St. Joseph Health Systems is to continue to help and improve the quality of life of the community we serve,” she said.
Through the years, the gala has raised more than $500,000 for the CARE Network and over $1 million for AIDS organizations throughout the valley, Edwards said. Sunday’s goal was to raise between $30,000 and $35,000, he said.
With the money raised at the event, the CARE Network provides basic support services to its clients, said Liza Alessio, community benefits coordinator at the Queen. These include providing access to medicine, food and transportation, she said.
Although most of the movie stars appeared on-screen Sunday, two celebrities were mingling with the crowd at the winery: Charlotte Stewart, who played Miss Beadle on the popular television series “Little House on the Prairie,” and Bob Sarlatte, who is the voice of the San Francisco 49ers and has appeared many times on “The Late Show with David Letterman.”
Stewart, who was diagnosed with breast cancer 19 years ago and has since beat it, said she became involved in the gala event by way of the CARE Network. On Sunday, Stewart said she was there to provide support to the event much in the same way that she supports the CARE Network, as a facilitator between patients and hospital staff.