Kris Waller and Dawn Henson from Seneca Family of Agencies. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Kris Waller and Dawn Henson from Seneca Family of Agencies. Photo by Robert Eliason.

The Gabilan Chapter of the Seneca Family of Agencies raised over $125,000 at their 67th Annual Wine and Food Tasting on Aug. 19, helping to fund the expansion of their behavioral health services to children and families in San Benito County through the hiring of three new dedicated clinicians. 

“Just by virtue of being adopted or in foster care,” said Gabilan Chapter member Kris Waller, “you’re taken out of your family unit and that is traumatic. There are a lot of kids in our county that need mental health services, that aren’t getting them in a timely manner. This is a way for us to reach them.”

Christian Pillsbury, owner of Eden Rift Vineyards, said the fundraiser allows business owners and residents of San Benito County to help families in need.

“For this organization to have the oldest stand-up wine tasting in the country is a testament to the commitment that residents of San Benito County have towards taking care of each other,” he said.

This year, it moved to Swank Farms from its traditional location at Paicines Ranch, and over 750 guests were treated to beverage tastings and food samples from 58 vendors, primarily from San Benito County. 

“I am thrilled to be here, to be part of the event,” said San Juan Bautista Mayor Leslie Jordan. “It is a great cause, absolutely amazing, and it is good to know that all the money raised here will stay within the county to help provide such valuable services. And the support shown here by the hospitality community has been phenomenal.”

Some of the businesses, including Round Table Pizza, Guglielmo Winery, Casa De Fruta, Paine’s Restaurant and Calera Wine Company, have been participating in the fundraiser for over 30 years.

  • Swank Farms. Photo by Robert Eliason.
  • Dick Swank with his Blonde Ale. Photo by Robert Eliason.
  • Margot Tankersley of Margot's Ice Cream. Photo by Robert Eliason.
  • Ella's by the Airport. Photo by Robert Eliason.
  • Windmill Market. Photo by Robert Eliason.
  • Sarah Griss of Lolla. Photo by Robert Eliason.
  • Alex DeLeon, Riley Nester, and Lino Gonzalez of Mad Pursuit . Photo by Robert Eliason.
  • Mike Kohne of Crave Wine Co. Photo by Robert Eliason.
  • Running Rooster. Photo by Robert Eliason.
  • The Smoke Point BBQ. Photo by Robert Eliason.
  • Grillin & Chillin Alehouse. Photo by Robert Eliason.
  • Mike and Allison Sicoli. Photo by Robert Eliason.
  • Sean and Fran Fitzharris. Photo by Robert Eliason.
  • Adam Jones and staff from Harvest Time Roadhouse. Photo by Robert Eliason.
  • Waiting for the Auction. Photo by Robert Eliason.

“I love this event because you get a lot of local people that we don’t normally see,” said Allison Sicoli, co-owner of Round Table Pizza, who also donated pizza to feed the volunteers. “I think they do a great job helping kids being adopted, and most of the money is staying here in town to help with their mental health issues.”

There were also many new businesses making their debut at the fundraiser, including the Hapa Bros, Donnovan’s Specialized Sausage, GG’s Cafe, Bliss Blendz Smoothies, Harvest Time Roadhouse, Lolla, Baler Steakhouse and Wise Goat Organics.

The Hapa Bros, celebrating their first year in business, made a predictable splash with their legendary chicken sandwiches, as did Sausages by Donnovan, over half a dozen sausages offered by Cal Poly student Donnovan McAbee as a preview of a business he plans to open in a year after he graduates. Harvest Time Roadhouse handed out tri-tip sandwiches served with barbecue sauce which owner Adam Jones said would be part of a new menu that includes street tacos, ribeye steaks and an assortment of salads.

“This event is amazing,” Jones said. “I had no idea this event was here, much less that it is their 67th year, but we are having fun with it, and I won’t miss it again.”

One of the more exotic offerings was from Lolla owner Sarah Griss, who provided sourdough crostini with Meyer lemon, ricotta, organic watermelon and daikon radishes finished with herb oil, all from Coke Farm.

“It is so nice to see so many businesses participating,” Griss said. “Everyone is really coming with their ‘A’ game. And we are so happy to have the chance to be out here supporting such a wonderful cause.”

The fundraiser included an auction that raised $33,000 with items such as two nights stay at Stables Inn in Paso Robles, a Swank Barn event for up to 200 guests, four pre-season tickets to a 49ers vs. LA Chargers game, and a limo and wine tasting for six at DeRose Wine and Calera Wine Company. There was also a raffle for over 60 bottles of wine and a wine fridge full of Prosecco.

In the end, though, the point was not the food, the wine, or the beer, but the community’s willingness to provide supplemental support to mental health services for foster children across the county.

In a press release, Regional Executive Director Dawn Henson of Seneca Central Coast said, “We are thrilled about the prospect of expanding our clinic’s footprint in the community. The new space will enable us to extend our services to more youth and families in the region, bolstering our ability to provide comprehensive support for their mental health needs.”

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