A cozy gathering of friends and supporters enjoyed an afternoon of delicious tea, fashion, art and fun activities at the annual Angels Bearing Gifts Garden Tea Party benefiting people with disabilities held at the beautiful home of Laurie and John Tilson in Montecito.
“We invite our loyal supporters and the general public to enjoy a relaxing afternoon tea served in a fabulous garden,” co-chairwoman Linda Cowen said. “This is our way of thanking them and reaching out to new supporters in our community who would like to help us fulfill our mission of remembering those people in our community who are disabled and have no families. We send them gifts at Christmas, birthdays and Valentine’s cards with $5 gift certificates. All the money received goes toward fulfilling our mission.”
Attendees strolled along the cobblestone paths winding through a maze of oak and palm trees that made up the unique two-acre garden, filled with exotic plants, ponds, bridges, water fountains, aviaries and a remarkable birdhouse collection.
To take the edge off the heat of the midday sun, board members dressed in colorful floral aprons and offered cool beverages to guests as they mingled and surveyed tables laden with unique arts and ceramic pieces available for purchase and made by artists with disabilities.
Before the tea-serving ceremony, guests settled into their seats as co-chairwoman Meredith Catalini welcomed them and explained to onlookers the history and progression of the organization.
The idea of this unique nonprofit organization emerged as an anonymous good deed more than 10 years ago by founder Evelynn Smith and her daughter, Michelle Olinor, who has developmental disabilities.
Acting as angels of hope, the pair delivered gifts to nine people with disabilities, most of whom were orphans who lacked familial support and had no loved ones to remember them over the holidays.
Since that fateful day of giving, Angels Bearing Gifts has reached more than 200 people in Santa Barbara County living with developmental disabilities, ranging from Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism spectrum disorder and mental retardation, with many of the beneficiaries residing at group homes, nursing facilities or in private residences.
Operating out of donated offices in Santa Barbara with a dedicated part-time staff of two employees, a handful of board of directors and a host of volunteers, the charitable organization has expanded its efforts promoting equalization of opportunities and full participation of people with disabilities in all aspects of social and economic life. A course of various year-round educational outreach and volunteer activities continues to supply gifts of love to beneficiaries not only during the holiday season but also birthdays and Valentine’s Day.
With the assistance of the general public, students from local schools, churches and partner agencies including the Alpha Resource Center, Tri-Counties Regional Center, KEYT and Venoco Inc., beneficiaries receive gift wrapped items such as puzzles, arts-and-crafts supplies, handmade personalized cards and domestic necessities ranging from toiletries to cooking utensils — all of which are delivered by ABG volunteers.
Following the tradition of an English afternoon garden tea party, which was made fashionable by Anna Maria Russell, Seventh Duchess of Bedford, during the Victorian era, ladies and gentlemen dressed in garden party attire sat outside at oval tables covered with decorative tablecloths provided by Kimmie Curtis of TOAST, with bowls of fresh fruit that served as centerpieces, supplied courtesy of host Laurie Tilson, that complimented the tea drinking accoutrements.
The afternoon bill of fare included white tea with milk or black tea with lemon and a variety of savories, such as buttery scones with jam, delicate bite-sized egg salad sandwiches, cucumber with cream cheese and olive cream cheese on wheat or white bread. Delectable pastries of chocolate-dipped strawberries and biscotti were made by AGB staff and volunteers, with the baking supplies donated by Trader Joe’s.
During the ceremony, attendees were treated to a fashion show courtesy of Paris Street Boutique as models dressed in stylish clothing sauntered from table to table modeling chic, romantic French-inspired summer apparel.
Alma Rose Middleton, owner of Paris Street Boutique, told Noozhawk that 25 percent of proceeds received from retail sales at the garden tea fundraiser would be allotted to ABG.
“We are an organization run by volunteers, which means that all tax-deductible donations go directly to the services we provide to our beneficiaries,” Catalini said. “It is our hope that we can increase our beneficiaries this year and reach more than 200 people who would otherwise be forgotten during the holidays.”
Other fun-filled activities held that afternoon featured a tour of the gardens, face-painting and an arts-and-crafts station for the kids.
“Our goal is to bring happiness to people with developmental disabilities,” Catalini said. “We can only carry out this valuable and loving endeavor when people in our community support us through generosity and enthusiasm.”
Angels Bearing Gift would like to thank the donors and sponsors for their generosity and Easy Lift Transportation for providing transportation for guests to ease parking congestion.
Click here for more information about Angel Bearing Gifts, or to volunteer or donate, call 805.844.7222. Direct donations can be made payable to Angels Bearing Gifts, P.O. Box 41721, Santa Barbara 93140-1721.