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Girl Scouts' Dessert First benefit dinner

For the third year, 10 chefs turned Thin Mints, Shortbread Trefoils and other Girl Scout cookies into appetizers at Dessert First, a benefit for the Girl Scouts of Suncoast Council. More than 200 guests happily scooped up dessert before dinner at the Westin Harbour Island on Nov. 17. Judges gave Meghann Walsh of the Renaissance Vinoy the Golden Whisk Award for a warm Do-Si-Do skillet cake smothered in her homemade Tagalong ice cream. Paul Boucher of Mise en Place won People's Choice Award for his Samoa cookies-and-cream cheesecake.

With Jack Harris emceeing, the $150 dinner and the live auction raised about $40,000 for bay area Girl Scouts.

March of Dimes' Signature Chef's Auction

Silent auction buzzards hovered over bids and samplers grazed at a dozen tasting stations, but the live auction generated the most buzz at the March of Dimes Signature Chef's Auction. Some unusual dining, travel and entertainment packages (think Las Vegas and Maine) enticed 500 guests to the St. Pete Times Forum on Nov. 14.

Debra Bagulho, Maria Teresa Owens and Karen Wincott raved about March of Dimes services as they chased their lively 4-year-olds. The moms founded Women of Miracle Babies (WOMB), a support group for parents of preemies, after meeting in St. Joseph's Women's Hospital neonatal intensive care unit four years ago. Married Fox 13 anchors Kathy Fountain and Frank Robertson shared the microphone with auctioneer David Schall, who got a handful of guests to stand and "fund the mission." Those pledges helped the event net $70,000 to prevent birth defects and premature birth.

Red Cross Gingerbread House Brunch

Gingerbread houses underwent extreme makeovers when the American Red Cross of Tampa Bay hosted 300 for brunch in the University of Tampa Fletcher Lounge on Saturday. Using gumdrops, licorice, candy canes, marshmallows and more, participants transformed plain houses into sugary showpieces.

A toy shop, a Kentucky horse park and Red Cross shelter appeared among the standouts. Chief executive Scott Salemme, Laura York and Phil Alessi, whose bakery donated several hundred gingerbread houses, gave decorators an hour before they began judging.

Red Cross board member Gina Sierra-Townsend and her table color schemed to win "Best Theme." Each guest chose a single color for their house to create a rainbow neighborhood.

Chairwomen Merci Karl and Joyce Keller expect the sixth annual gingerbread challenge to raise $30,000 for local services.


Tonight: Home Is Where the Heart Is, 6 p.m.; holiday stroll to five Davis Islands homes benefits Kids Charity of Tampa Bay; $150; 263-3469.

Dec. 14: LampLighters Silver Christmas Coffee. 11 a.m. South Tampa home of Gail Chabani; $20 minimum donation to buy toys for Metropolitan Ministries children; 831-8969.

Dec. 29: Seventh annual Kwanzaa Celebration, North Tampa African Alliance, 6 p.m., St. Paul Catholic Church, 12708 N Dale Mabry Highway; adult, $15; teen, $10 and child, $5; 961-6239.