Kaleidoscope: Christmas Project fundraiser marks 16 years of styling success

The hairdos were wild along with a few of the t-shirt logos. The room was packed wall-to-wall and the event attendees cheered as each new team of models took to the runway.

If you were there, then you know the excitement and fun shared by the capacity crowd at the 16th annual Gala Fashion Show where over 200 models strutted their stuff, coiffed and clothed by local designers, retailers and salons.

Beyond featuring local merchants’ high style clothing and chic, volunteer models, the event held a greater purpose — to raise funds for the Hood River County Christmas Basket Project.

“The Christmas Project is a really important local organization that gives assistance to low income families in the winter season,” said Cathy Carter, the event’s long-time organizer. “It was awesome. I think this was our biggest fundraiser yet.”

And money generated through the Gala will be helpful indeed. Although the final figures aren’t in just yet, Carter estimated that nearly $13,000 was raised for this year’s families needing holiday help. The entire Christmas Project must cover about $25,000 in costs each year.

According to Bruce Holmson, president of the Hood River County Christmas Project 501c3 organization, the project spends the donated funds to buy groceries and small children’s gifts for families in need who might otherwise have little to celebrate with for the holidays.

This year, the project will provide baskets filled with nutritious foods and Christmas gifts to over 500 families.

Even with that staggering number of needy families, the Gala serves as a positive force to bring together a whole community of help.

Carter estimated that between models, backstage helpers and audience members, over 800 individuals participated in this year’s Gala to bring those families some holiday cheer.

“We have so many people get involved,” said Carter. Ticket buyers, volunteer event staff, models, store owners –– everyone contributes to make this work.”

Originally started by Doug’s Sports, Ananas, and Kerrits downtown store owners, the event was always intended to support the Christmas Project –– whose funding is entirely based on donations.

Carter started as a model during the initial few years and then took over the organization of the event as it grew.

Each year Carter tries to bring in new ideas or expand on previous crowd favorites, all with a goal of increasing the total donation the group can make to the Christmas Project.

This year’s addition included the 2nd annual “children’s fashion camp” runway display.

“We held the camp about two weeks ago and 18 kids were in it,” said Carter. This year’s camp featured a “Duck Tape design-and-build” theme. Those 18 youngsters were assisted by teen mentors from the HRVHS fashion club to create fashions that they then paraded in the early part of the evening.

“They were so cute and we had so much fun at the camp,” said Carter, who also involved the HRVHS fashion club in mentoring and designing with the children.

That kind of connection-building is Carter’s secret to success. She tries to include as many people and organizations as possible.

“This is always high energy and good fun for everyone but also heartwarming because it is the largest fundraiser we do for the Christmas Project,” said Carter.

And, the evening offers a unique opportunity for businesses who design and market current fashions and beauty services. At this year’s event about 20 local fashion retailers and salons sent models down the runway, gaining exposure and involving their own customers as models.

To keep up the annual momentum, much goes on behind the scenes to make the evening work.

Carter provided a long list of annual supporters including Area 54 who provided music; Marty Knowles and Josh Breedlove on lights; Kevin Tolkstad on media projections and Gavin McAlpine who volunteered as emcee. Moria Reynolds provided graphics and Lucy Gorman coordinated the registration table with help from Christmas Project volunteers and friends.

Topping Carter’s list of generous donors is the Hood River Inn Best Western Plus, who provided the Gorge Room free of charge for the event and the rehearsal the day before, along with a bank of 19 hotel rooms for the staging areas and dressing rooms.

“The hotel graciously and generously gives us rooms to use, helping us get the 200 (plus) models ready for the runway,” said Carter. The Hood River Lions also help by donating the use of a giant tent to house the fully dressed models before their walk.

A special runway surprise was offered this year when Salon Visio styled up about 30 of the new Gorge Roller Girls team, bringing a bit of edge to the evening’s styles. The audience also helped cheer on a recipient (Marie Parker) of a months-long makeover courtesy of Columbia Laser Skin Center of Hood River.

The HRVHS fashion club sent young designer pieces into the limelight displayed on student models. “They were amazing as well,” said Carter.

For those who felt the need to own some of the latest designs on the runway, Carter added a “Fashion Boulevard” sale in the hotel following the show. “A lot of people took advantage of the sale,” said Carter.

“I love to help people and children in particular, but anyone that is in need has a place in my heart and I am honored and thrilled to be able to help,” said Carter, who plans to return as lead fashion mogul for next year’s event.

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