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Annual LEEF Gala puts focus on education

Heather Sweeney and Tori Lussier, freshmen at Longmeadow High School, served as volunteers at the mystery item auction table. "We got to dress up for tonight," Lussier said. "That was the best part." Reminder Publications photo by Courtney Llewellyn
By Courtney Llewellyn

Reminder Assistant Editor

LONGMEADOW Presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton wrote in her 1996 book "It Takes a Village" that "it takes a village to raise a child." It may not take an entire village but raising a child does require dedication from a large number of people parents, teachers, neighbors, etc. Longmeadow residents from the all the aforementioned groups and more helped fund the education of their children by attending the annual LEEF Gala on Nov. 17.

All the money raised by the gala goes into the Longmeadow Educational Excellence Foundation's coffer to fund creative and innovative grants proposed by teachers next year.

Ann Boyajian, teacher assistant to the principal at Glenbrook Middle School, is a former recipient of a LEEF Grant. "This is a wonderful cause," she said.

A total of 380 tickets were sold for this year's fundraising gala. Another 170 residents volunteered. Over 315 items were donated for the live and silent auctions.

More than 400 Longmeadow residents contributed to the event, by buying tickets, donating items for the auction or donating money.

"The numbers are phenomenal," Ellen McKenna, LEEF co-president, said. "This is an awesome town party."

"It's so inspiring," Amy Santarelli of the Auction Donations Committee said. "It's not just our community but all of the Pioneer Valley."

The event took place at the Longmeadow Country Club for the first time in the organization's six year history. LEEF board member Joe Aberdale said it took the volunteers a day and a half to set everything up for the cocktail party. Middle school and high school students provided music in the separate rooms in the form of a solo pianist, a jazz combo and a string quartet.

The theme of the gala came about after new event co-chairs Judi Threlfall and Ann Burke decided to change things up a bit.

"We had five years of a sit down dinner," Threlfall said. "The cocktail party mixes it up. There's more mingling."

One of the highlights of the party were the complimentary martinis, or LEEFtinis, provided by V-One Vodka of Hadley. Creator Paul Kozub said V-One attends 100 different charity events a year. "It's good exposure for us and an asset to the fundraiser," he said.

What was in a LEEFtini? V-One's organic vodka, Paul Newman's Organic Lemonade and either cranberry or pomegranate juice.

Another popular part of the evening was the mashed potato bar. Guests could choose regular, garlic or sweet mashed potatoes served in a cocktail glass with a variety of toppings. School Committee member Jerold Duquette gave his mashed potatoes with bacon and butter a thumbs up.

"This is a great idea," he said. "If I come back [next year] and there's no potato bar, I'm leaving."

School Committee chair Geoff Weigand enjoyed the potatoes and the event as well.

"It's nice for the community," he said. "It's wonderful to see. Everyone's having a good time."

"It's a lot of work, but it's so worth it, it's so worthwhile," Santarelli said. "It's all about helping education. If you're not an educator, this is one way to make a difference."