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A fashion show that makes cents

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A temporary getaway into the world of high fashion provides real-world relief for homeless people in New Mexico.

This red evening gown is a design from Natalia Acosta Couture, featured designer at this year’s Pennies for the Homeless High Tea & Fashion Show. (Photo courtesy of Natalia Acosta Couture)

This red evening gown is a design from Natalia Acosta Couture, featured designer at this year’s Pennies for the Homeless High Tea & Fashion Show. (Photo courtesy of Natalia Acosta Couture)

Proceeds from the Pennies for the Homeless High Tea & Fashion Show, which is Nov. 10 at the Hotel Albuquerque, help fund 25 agencies, concentrated in the metro area, but also extending to Roswell and Santa Fe, says organizer and co-founder Joseph Saavedra.

“It’s getting better because every year we’re able to provide more services for the homeless, but it’s also getting worse because every year there are more homeless people,” he says.

One particularly troubling problem for Saavedra, a master hair stylist in Albuquerque, are the more than 6,100 Albuquerque Public School students registered as homeless, according to APS statistics.

In 1990, he returned to Albuquerque after working for many years with celebrity clients in California. It disturbed him to see students who were homeless and witness more people living on the streets.

A desire to help prompted Saavedra, along with retired District Court Judge Diane Dal Santo, to create Pennies for the Homeless in 1993.

The all-volunteer nonprofit organization considers its core mission to provide education for the public and direct support to shelters, meal sites, day-care centers and other services for the homeless, he says.

“We do have more services, but it’s a circle effect,” Saavedra says. “What happened with the shutdown in Washington didn’t just affect those gentlemen on Capitol Hill. It affected the taxi drivers and the people who work in the coffee shops. It affects us all.”

living_jd_27oct_penniesFor the first years of Pennies for the Homeless, schoolchildren collected pennies and other change, but the nonprofit evolved into the fundraising tea and fashion show. Last year about 500 guests at the event raised $42,000, he says.

This year he hopes to fill all 600 seats.

“It’s our sweet sixteen,” Saavedra says. “We try to make it fun every year, but this year is special.”

The color theme of the decorations at the tea reflects the copper and frosty aqua of an oxidized penny to celebrate a new logo and reinforce the nonprofit’s foundational concept that even a penny can change the world for the better, he says.

The tea features cucumber sandwiches and scones with clotted cream, and the runway show with professional models features the fashion couture of Natalia Acosta of Phoenix.

“We’re very excited. There will be a lot of evening gowns,” Saavedra says. “It’s all new. We never repeat a designer.”

Carla Aragón, author and former television news anchor, will emcee the event, as she has since it started, he says.

This year also marks the launch of a Pennies for the Homeless Foundation, started with the donation of a 1967 classic Mustang, valued at more than $25,000, that will help fund the organization for years to come, he says.

“It’s been my dream to get a foundation. I don’t want to die and Pennies for the Homeless goes away.”

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