The midday temperatures were so warm that most guests at the annual Christmas Belles coffee for St. Petersburg's Christmas Toy Shop abandoned heavy holiday finery for sleeveless party wear.
Doors were open for breezes to cool the legions of elves who brought arms filled with gifts to the event, where volunteers prepared untold trays and chafing dishes filled with delectable treats, dozens and dozens of tiny sandwiches and sweets and savories and an entree or two.
One party of women arrived by boat at the home of Bill and Ria McQueen, where Santa greeted them and then returned to the driveway to figure out how to load all of those toys into his sleigh. Santa looks a little different each year, and this time he reminded me of David Cox, but I can't be sure. That red suit looked uncomfortably toasty.
The Belles, in their 51st year of raising money and collecting playthings for the Toy Shop, are Mary Wyatt Allen, Marion Ballard, Jane Beam, Lennie Bennett, Martha Buttner, Lynn Cox, Liz Curry, Tina Douglass, Ashley Gairing, Kally Harvard, Rosemary Hempel, Susan Hicks, Judy Holland, Anne Long, Laurie Lowe, Breck Moorefield, Evelyn Moorefield, Glenn Mosby, Carol Piper, Maria Rawls, Nancy Rutland, Iris Salzer, Betty Shamas, Judy Stanton and Patsy Wheeler.
It starts with a "parade of icing" in the ballroom at the Loews Don CeSar Hotel in St. Pete Beach and ends with a number of guests taking home prizes for their creativity in the annual gingerbread event to benefit the Tampa Bay chapter of the American Red Cross.
The hotel supplies the pastry houses, tables covered with candy, the aforementioned frosting and additional large bowls of ice water and lemon slices for cleaning sticky hands.
Karol Bullard and Mary Critchfield are chairwomen of the annual fundraiser, and Tampa Bay Rays senior adviser Dick Crippen is both master of ceremonies and auctioneer; celebrity judges include Tampa Bay magazine's Margaret Word Burnside, WTTA-TV Ch. 38's broadcaster Jen Holloway, Salt Rock Grill executive chef Barry Spaulding and yours truly.
Prize winners, per Red Cross spokeswoman Natasha Salazar: Karen Campbell, most traditional; Barbara Zaccaria, most original; Bev Jackson, most fun; Angela Schiappa, child's fantasy; Lisa Chandler, people's choice; Stacy Calvino, cookie rookie of the year; Valerie Chumbris, best in show; Suzy Sofer, "elf" winner; and Kristi Cheatham, most awesome attire. The Clearwater Gas System table won best theme group.
More than 250 guests attended the kickoff event at the Coliseum in St. Petersburg for the 39th annual PARC golf tournament weekend.
Partygoers wore Western gear to the "Harvest Hoedown" event, with food from the Baystar Restaurant Group and music from Caribbean Cowboy.
The featured PARC artist, the singularly named Tyler, sold his work at auction and designed unique corn-toss boards for a grand prize drawing.
And Tom James received work from a PARC artist in recognition of the sponsorship's 39-year commitment to the fundraiser, which helps developmentally disabled children and adults. Karen Higgins is chief executive of the nonprofit, and Paul Manfrey is chairman of the board of directors.
Two dozen sponsor teams competed in the Nov. 23 tournament at the Bayou Club in Largo.