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Flavors of Life

Unique Sheriff's Department SWAT demonstration helps wine auction in effort to feed SCV seniors

Posted: October 4, 2008 8:44 p.m.
Updated: December 6, 2008 5:00 a.m.

SCV Sheriff's SWAT Team perform a drill for a crowd at the senior wine auction, on Sept. 27, at the Valencia Mann Biomedical Park.

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The blades of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department helicopter blew dust, leaves and debris into the eager crowd anticipating a unique "first" at the "Flavors of Life" 17th annual classic benefit wine auction.

However, no one minded the helicopter's "windy" welcome at the Mann BioMedical Park in Valencia. As guests stood in the warm afternoon sun uniform-clad members of the Sheriff's SWAT team descended on thick ropes from the helicopter hovering at tree-top level.

As they reached the ground, a flash and a bang erupted from the right side of the field. The SWAT team knelt on the ground, weapons at the ready. They quickly retrieved a victim sprawled on the nicely manicured lawn, secured him in a medical rescue basket, raised him into the helicopter - and were gone.

The rare demonstration was provided at the event because of the auction's importance in feeding the seniors of the Santa Clarita Valley through the Committee on Aging's home-delivered meals program.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to be part of something very, very special," said Chris Fall, auctioneer for "Flavors of Life."

The wine auction was founded 17 years ago by Santa Clarita mayor emeritus Jo Anne Darcy and Juan Alonso, executive chef and owner of Le Chene French Cuisine.

For 16 years the wine auction called Le Chene, with its picturesque backyard, wonderful wine cellar and gourmet food, home.

In a "changing of the guard" Kathy Crone served as the 2008 event chairwoman with past chairman Duane Harte and current president of the SCV Senior Center Foundation, as event director.

"Wasn't that an amazing demonstration?" Crone said. "I know people who really care about seniors.

One of the members of the SWAT team said, if this is for the seniors, we'll do it for them."

After the demonstration, Deputy Mark Schlegel, of the L.A. Sheriff's SWAT team told the audience about the last, "mystery" auction item in the program. Schlegel portrayed the "victim" who was bundled into the rescue basket.

"I hope it was more exciting for you than me, as I was just laying in the basket," Schlegel said. "I live in Santa Clarita and am a member of the Sheriff's SWAT team. This is our 50th year. I will humbly say that the L.A. County Sheriff's SWAT team is recognized as one of the most elite in law enforcement tactical training units in the world. With that being said I'd like to offer to our folks in the audience a rare opportunity to train with the SWAT team."

Asked what such an opportunity entailed Schlegel was quick to elaborate.

"We're going to do it all - you just got a glimpse of what we do day in and day out. If you're up to an adrenaline challenge. then I challenge you to come train with the best," he said.

The challenge was accepted by the audience and bidding soon turned fast and furious for the "Train with SWAT" item and finally ended at $2,600. Lisa Perez of Burbank purchased the item for her husband's birthday.

"My husband is turning 50 and I think this would be a great thing for him. I know he'll be excited," she said.

Crone said Perez fetched a unique prize.

"Nobody is going to have that item again," said Crone.

Nearly 400 guests enjoyed wine tasting and hors d'oeuvres as live jazz played and a silent auction featuring dozens of perfectly wrapped baskets beckoned. After lunch a special tribute to Jo Anne Darcy, past Santa Clarita councilwoman and mayor, was held by the wine auction's honorary chairs - the current Santa Clarita council, Mayor Bob Kellar, councilwomen Marsha McLean, Laurene Weste and Laurie Ender and councilman Frank Ferry.

Each councilperson in turn paid tribute to Darcy's long-time commitment to Santa Clarita and the SCV's seniors.

"I've known this remarkable lady for probably 25 years and we could probably take the entire afternoon and just touch on all the remarkable things she has done," Kellar said.

After the Darcy tribute, the live auction, with Fall at the helm, moved swiftly to dispatch the more than two dozen items including fine wine, a fire house dinner, travel opportunities, other goods and services - then ended with the "Train with SWAT" item.

Crone said she believes the auction will net close to last year's event fetching more than $50,000.
"We are so grateful for all our sponsors and supporters," Crone said. "But the need is great. There are so many seniors that might go hungry without this home-delivered meals program."

Brad Berens, executive director of the SCV Committee on Aging, said programs like the home-delivered meals program are important to area seniors to help seniors "age in place."

"Programs like the home-delivered meals program help seniors prevent premature institutionalization and allow seniors to continue to live fulfilling lives," Berens said.

The home-delivered meals program, which currently serves more than 800 senior households in the Committee on Aging's service area, has never had a waiting list, Berens said. But shortages in funding and increases in expenses, like fuel and food, may require a change in that policy.

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