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Feast raises money for school (video)

April 5, 2013 at 11 p.m.
Updated April 5, 2013 at 11:06 p.m.

Aaron Ralston, left, and Eric Heidrich with The Smoker King BBQ team work in a tent at  Club Westerner to prepare pulled pork monte cristo for the Fifth annual Top Chef fundraiser for The Vine School. Seven area chefs competed against each other Friday, and Ralston's team took the honor of Top Chef.

Black and white photos of smiling children topped white-clothed tables, and colorful puzzle piece paintings marked table numbers Friday night at Club Westerner.

Surrounding the decor were supporters of The Vine School, who tasted meticulously plated creations from area chefs.

The fifth annual Top Chef fundraiser for The Vine School, an organization specializing in teaching students with autism, transformed the country-themed club into a classy community-based cooking competition.

"We thought, 'What does everyone like to do?' Eat and drink," said Erin Hatley, the school's executive director.

This year, seven regional chefs competed for a crystal cup and some impressive bragging rights.

School officials said they hoped to exceed last year's fundraising level of $80,000.

Supporters offered bids in silent auction on donated items from area businesses and on some handmade items from students at the school.

Money raised Friday will go to the school for tuition assistance scholarships and teaching materials and will help fund a new building for the school, which operates in space rented from First United Methodist Church. Officials want to construct their own building, Hatley said.

According to Hatley, the fundraiser's strategy was to bring people in with the food and then show them why the school deserves support.

More than 250 people submitted an RSVP for the event, which raised money for the school with only 11 students.

"It really goes to show you that nearly everyone in our community is affected by autism, someway, somehow" Hatley said.

One such attendee was Rosemary Watts, whose son, 7-year-old Adam Garcia, is completing his third year at the school.

Watts said she had tried enrolling Adam in public school but learned that the one-on-one programs at The Vine School helped her son progress more.

"It's a struggle," she said about raising a son with autism. "I don't know what I would do without this school."



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