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Red Cross Gingerbread House Brunch

Gingerbread houses underwent extreme makeovers when the American Red Cross of Tampa Bay hosted 300 for brunch Saturday in the University of Tampa Fletcher Lounge. 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 the 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.

H.B. Plant Museum Society Holiday Cocktail Buffet

For 25 years, H.B. Plant Museum has been decked out and dolled up for a Victorian Christmas Stroll. First to get a peek on Nov. 30: nearly 400 Museum Society members and their guests, invited to a Holiday Cocktail Buffet at the 19th century grand hotel. The 25th anniversary stroll featured all the old favorites, including the cigar tree, minaret tree and teddy bear tree. The toy tree brought back memories for many.

As always, members made their specialities, such as Marie Preston's liver pate and Robin Gonzalez's pralines. Surveying the spread she arranged, food chairwoman Marte Watson quipped, "I can vouch for all of them.'' Chavez at Home added the escargot and a roast pig, which Cynthia Gandee dubbed Henry.

Carla Rieger's centerpiece, winter-white branches filled with chirping red cardinals, perched over the buffet. She also made the birdhouse with its silver minaret and designed the invitation for party chairwoman Wynnette Hampton, whose sister, Hilary Davis, is president of Plant Museum Society. Catch the exhibit through Dec. 23.

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, or WOMB, a support group for parents of preemies, after meeting at 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.

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.


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.; home of Gail Chabani; $20 minimum to buy toys for needy children; 831-8969.

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

Jan. 13: Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla Tea Dance; 6:30 p.m.; Palma Ceia Golf and Country Club; invitation only.

Jan. 13: Krewe of Venus Coronation Ball; 6:30 p.m.; Busch Gardens; invitation only.

Jan. 13: Masquerade masked ball to benefit Stageworks Theatre; 6:30 p.m.; Centro Asturiano; $100; 784-6832.


Sincere apologies to Gasparilla debutantes McLean Rorebeck and Mallory Ramos for transposing their names in a Dec. 1 photo. And to the Bohannan family, debutante Kayleigh and her parents, Robert and Patty, for misspelling their name.