There was a selection of Chico’s 2012 winter collection ready-to-wear holiday fashions and more than 100 eager fashion enthusiasts on hand to view the latest trends at St. Vincent’s Third Annual Fashion Show and Luncheon benefiting St. Vincent’s Early Childhood Education Center at Villa Caridad’s Community Room.

“Everyone loves a good fashion show,” event co-chair and host Claudia Lash said. “What better way to support St. Vincent’s and assist low-income children in our community while getting an early start on holiday shopping.”

The spacious and brightly lit room quickly filled with guests who leisurely strolled between tables overflowing with holiday-themed gift baskets, jewelry and artwork up for bid during the silent auction.

Rachelle Cruz, D.C., also smiled broadly as she made her way around the room offering raffle tickets to visitors for $20, with prizes including an Apple iPad, flat-screen television and a Flip Ultra HD video camera.

Next, youth volunteers from Bishop Garcia Diego High School served guests a hearty lunch of tender sliced turkey, garlic mashed potatoes and gravy, steamed green beans and flaky, warm butter rolls courtesy of Karleskint Catering.

During lunch, St. Vincent’s President and CEO Margaret Keaveney, D.C., addressed the diners and graciously thanked the crowd of onlookers for their support.

“Everything we do matters in life,” Keaveney said. “And the wonderful people who came here today to support our early education program really matter to us.”

Later, the fashion show began hosted by Lash and event co-chair Pat Lupo with emcee Pat Waters featuring bold and colorful assemblages of ready-to-wear clothing and evening wear inspired by the approaching holiday season and sponsored by Chico’s.

Models strolled the aisles of the room sporting leopard print faux fur jackets, sequined tank tops, cream velvet blazers with matching flare leg trousers, shimmering gold cable cardigans accessorized with glass pearls, and sliver and gold draped necklaces with shimmering glass drop earrings.

Founded in 1858 by the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, St. Vincent’s opened the first English-speaking school and orphanage in Santa Barbara.

Since the inception of the Roman Catholic facility, St. Vincent’s has undergone numerous transitions over the years, including the erection of St. Vincent’s Day Nursery, one of the first child-care programs in California operating during World War II until the late 1970s.

In 1936, the orphanage closed and gave way to a new school for developmentally disabled children. For decades the facility provided residential and educational assistance to thousands of disadvantaged children in Santa Barbara County until its closure in 1995.

In the latter half of the 1990s, St. Vincent’s established two new programs, PATHS which is today St. Vincent’s Family Strengthening Program, a residential communal living program for single mothers with limited income and their children, and Casa Alegria Children’s Center, which is now St. Vincent’s Early Childhood Education Center for infants, toddlers and preschoolers.

Today, St. Vincent’s continues to reach out to the community and respond to the needs of residents living in Santa Barbara County by offering an array of educational and affordable housing programs at the 19-acre site on 4200 Calle Real featuring lush community gardens, play areas, basketball courts and a baseball diamond.

St. Vincent’s Early Childhood Education Center, licensed to accommodate 46 children, is a Catholic preschool that accepts children of all faiths and provides quality child care for infants, toddlers and preschoolers.

Rebecca Robertson, vice president and chief program officer for St. Vincent’s Children and Family Services, who oversees the Early Childhood Education Center, explained that the Center works with all kinds of families from all areas and education brackets, but overall there are many children enrolled in the school who are from very low-income families.

“Without the subsidies that St Vincent’s is able to provide and the fundraising that is done here for those families they couldn’t be in the Early Childhood Education Center,” Robertson said.

And, the Early Education Childhood Center was recently named a demonstration site for the “Outdoor Class Room Project” sponsored by the The Orfalea Foundations.

The program places students in an outdoor classroom where they are subject to more physical activities, hands-on learning and social interaction through peer interaction that enriches and maximizes a child’s cognitive development.

“We try to have the children be outside as much as possible since so many children today grow up basically indoors with digital equipment and watching television,” Robertson said. “Under this program the children learn to enjoy and honor nature and a majority of their learning happens outside.”

Robertson was delighted at the huge turnout for this year’s annual fundraiser and expects even larger attendance numbers for next year.

“This day is about investing in our future,” Robertson said. “The children are our future and it’s a way to really make a difference today for tomorrow’s adults.”

Noozhawk iSociety columnist Melissa Walker can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkSociety, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

Noozhawk iSociety columnist Melissa Walker can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.