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Supporters gathered at a fitting location in the gardens of the Music Academy of the West to pay tribute to The Cecilia Fund, a highly thought-of organization that has no permanent place of business and operates as a small group of dedicated members.

“It is a pleasure for Marion (Schoneberger) and me to be with you this afternoon, and we welcome you to the first annual Affaire of the Heart with this year’s French theme, L’ Affaire de Coeur,” The Cecilia Fund co-president Susan Johnson said.

The event featured a Provencal-inspired theme with fine wine, crepes and live music.

As the oldest nonprofit in Santa Barbara County, the organization provides financial assistance for unmet dental and medical expenses for county residents.

Started 122 years ago as the St. Cecilia Society, a small group of women musicians staged musicals to raise the money needed to furnish patient rooms at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital. Once the hospital evolved into a fully functional facility, the group formed a charitable organization that raised funds by asking community members to join.

“Over the years, the scope of their work increased and they began helping people with their medical bills,” event emcee David Moorman said. “The early membership roster is filled with well-known names from Santa Barbara history.”

The rebranded group gathered guests, with all contributions at the afternoon affair going fully to critical health-care funding for the community’s most vulnerable members.

“The Cecilia Fund is an all-volunteer organization,” The Cecilia Fund co-president Marion Schoneberger said. “And although our name has changed, our mission remains the same — we provide critical healthcare funding for our community’s most vulnerable members.”

The Cecilia Fund receives a demand that outweighs that ability to fulfill requests — in recent years receiving more than 100 requests totaling almost $300,000 annually.

People experiencing multiple hardships are grateful for the assistance in times when they are struggling to get by and an accident or illness leaves them in a deeper bind.

Medical and dental costs have escalated, and more people need assistance paying bills that sometimes run into the thousands of dollars.

“Our community partners refer clients with critical medical and dental needs who have limited to no financial ability to access care,” Schoneberger said.

Funding can assist with medications, mental health, dental, diagnostic tests, emergency services and physician care, with most urgent requests receiving a response within a day.

Donation cards on each table throughout the event offered supporters the opportunity to provide additional funding for specific needs, such as an eye exam and glasses.

Clients are referred to The Cecilia Fund by local social services agencies, and a board member acts as the case investigator to prepare all the background information required for each client.

The Cecilia Fund embraces the challenge and generates public awareness in support of low-income residents who need assistance to pay critical medical or dental bills on a one-time basis by paying the provider directly and often negotiating a lower cost. Click here for more information or to make a donation.

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