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A festive fundraiser makes for a memorable evening at Oaks Park, the Holiday Express nearby...

DAVID F. ASHTON - The Southeast Portland Rotary Clubs current inbound exchange student from Argentina, Agustina Sesto, left, offers Heads or Tails game beads along with her local host sister, Natalie Marcum. Agustina is enrolled at Cleveland High this year. The Southeast Portland Rotary Club annual Wreath Auction on Saturday evening, December 1, was a festive affair – again this year in the Dance Pavilion of nonprofit Oaks Amusement Park on the Willamette River in Sellwood. Live music was played by local band "Pretty Gritty" as part of the evening. Outside, in the clear cold air, the "Holiday Express" Christmas steam train idled between trips through Oaks Bottom. The annual SMILE Christmas Tree shone high above, on the bluff along S.E. 13th Avenue.

Inside, we sought out the club's current President, Kathy Stromvig, among the throngs of guests. "After holding this auction for 15 years, we skipped last year – and, bringing it back looks like a good idea! Look at the turnout, and the smiling faces of people here!

"This fundraiser supports our Youth Exchange program and our Woodmere Elementary School 'Back Pack' program; it provides dictionaries for third graders in all the PPS elementary schools in our area, and it also supports Rotary International's clean water projects in Haiti, the Shelter Box program in disasters, and aids teachers in Guatemala, among other things."

As some 150 guests browsed the fifty unique hand-decorated Holiday wreaths on display, writing bids for the ones each liked best before the silent auction closed, they enjoyed appetizers of gourmet meatballs and antipasto catered by Sellwood's own "a Cena" restaurant – and later browsed an epicurean buffet from the restaurant, featuring chicken cacciatore, beef lasagna with béchamel, and deep-fried eggplant Bolzano.

Taking a break from registering participants, Past Club President and the auction's organizer, Mark Pennington of SalesForce.com, said the event also included a "Wall of Wine" featuring a selection of 50 wrapped bottles, some of which were valued in the hundreds of dollars.

"We're grateful for the dozen volunteers who have worked so diligently to make this party possible, and hopefully have helped us raise more than $18,000 for our causes, Pennington said.

By the way, Southeast Portland Rotary meets every Monday at noon except on some holidays, at Moreland Presbyterian Church's public meeting room at 1814 S.E. Bybee Boulevard in Westmoreland, and anyone in the community is welcome at any meeting, to enjoy a catered lunch learn more about this 112-year-old worldwide service organization.

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