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Saturday, November 17 , 2018, 6:15 am | Fog/Mist 54º


With Food and with Array of Programs, Family Service Agency Keeps Cooking Up Dreams

Chef Michael Hutchings earns top awards at fundraiser benefiting extensive support services for at-risk and underserved community

From left, Cooking Up Dreams co-chairwoman Meredith Garofalo, emcee Andrew Firestone, co-chairwoman Marni Cooney and Family Service Agency executive director Lisa Brabo.
From left, Cooking Up Dreams co-chairwoman Meredith Garofalo, emcee Andrew Firestone, co-chairwoman Marni Cooney and Family Service Agency executive director Lisa Brabo. (Melissa Walker / Noozhawk photo)

[Click here for a related Noozhawk photo gallery.]

The Cooking Up Dreams fundraiser benefiting Santa Barbara County’s Family Service Agency beckoned hundreds of food enthusiasts to The Fess Parker, where more than a dozen local celebrity chefs fashioned a variety of delectable and savory dishes.

A ballroom full of zealous patrons and advocates for the nonprofit organization gathered in support of its mission to preserve a healthy community for families and individuals of all ages and diversities.

“We have impacted the lives of over 16,000 residents across Santa Barbara County over the past year,” explained executive director Lisa Brabo, who paused midsentence and smiled warmly at a young male mentee (known as a “Little”) who dashed by wearing a white chef’s hat and matching apron, before finishing her thought.

“Families have gained access to our family support, education and counseling services, and access to food, shelter and other basic needs, as well as youth mentoring, case management, and a variety of mental health programs.”

Bouts of laughter, and music from pop to jazz provided by Scott Topper Productions, filled the vast space as guests mingled in the dimly lit ballroom, and ventured from chef to chef.

A variety of mouth-watering dishes was prepared and served in front of guests’ eyes, including lamb stew, honey-glazed pork-bellies, and fresh Alaskan cod. The array of dishes provided each guest with something tantalizing to sample that curbed everyone’s taste buds.

Behind the scenes, celebrity chefs were in a winner-take-all cook-off competition, as guests were asked to vote for their favorite dishes. Celebrity judges were also on hand to pick the best overall dish, based on taste, presentation and originality.

When all the votes where tallied, chef Michael Hutchings of Michael’s Catering clinched both wins, taking home two engraved chopping boards for both the 2016 People’s Choice Award and 2016 Judges Award for his mouth-watering Cultured Abalone with a Beurre Blanc Sauce.

“I’m absolutely happy to win here tonight, but more important I’m happy to support FSA for all that they do for our community,” Hutchings told Noozhawk. “They are the winners tonight.”

Established in 1989, FSA continues to furnish transformative programs and services that are sought after and needed for an at-risk and underserved populace.

Eighty-percent of the services are rendered on school campuses, community centers and in clients’ residences. Among the results:

» 462 youth and 429 families received sessions provided through School Counseling Services, available to K-12 school campuses in Carpinteria, Lompoc and Santa Barbara

» More than 300 clients, including children and families, received mental health counseling as part of the Youth and Family Behavioral Health program

Sustaining long-term care for the senior citizens remains a vital effort at the agency, Brabo noted.

“We have successfully completed our first year operating the Long-Term Care Ombudsman program, which ensures people living in long-term residential facilities county wide receive the appropriate care,” she said.

The Big Brothers Big Sisters mentorship program pairs 222 volunteers with 221 at-risk youth annually, which became a program of FSA in 1998. Children who are involved in the program are shown to be more likely to succeed in school, make safer behavioral choices and have stronger relationships with their parents and others.

People who seek services at the agency are never turned away, and services are provided free, or on a sliding-fee or donation scale.

Click here for more information about Family Service Agency. Click here to make an online donation.

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

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