ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Pennies for the Homeless High Tea and Fashion Show will go on after the loss of “two shiny pennies,” says founder Joseph Saavedra.
The annual event is the brainchild of Saavedra and the late District Court Judge Diane Dal Santo, who shared a desire to do something positive to address what they saw as a pressing need.
Dal Santo died in July of a heart-related illness. Another of the show’s key supporters, KKOB radio host Terry Q. Sayre, who helped host the event, died in January.
“We lost two shiny pennies,” said Saavedra, a master hairstylist. “We are devastated but we will stay positive.”
The event, now in its 23rd year, benefits 28 agencies in Albuquerque and throughout New Mexico that serve the homeless. Over the years it has raised more than $645,000 for the cause.
The charity Saavedra and Dal Santo started began with the efforts of schoolchildren collecting small change to help the homeless of Albuquerque get on their feet.
Over the years, it evolved into a high-end fashion show where Saavedra’s connections from his previous work with celebrities in Hollywood and Palm Springs, Calif., have helped him bring in big-name designers like Bill Blass, Mr. Blackwell, Chantelle and Michael Costello.
“Diane was a strong pillar of the charity, she advised me constantly,” Saavedra said.
At the event, a commemorative necklace created by local jewelry designer Aquila Designs will be presented to Dal Santo’s parents in her honor. The necklace features a gold-plated heart with footprints traced across it. Saavedra said it echoes words of Eleanor Roosevelt: “Many people will walk in and out of your life, but only true friends will leave footprints in your heart.”
Saavedra said he still feels Dal Santo’s energy as he continues the work of Pennies for the Homeless.
“It’s very interesting but I feel her energy in this, I really do,” Saavedra said. “She was tickled by what we did in starting this by rubbing two pennies together.”
A foundation created last year by Dr. Dale Alverson and his wife, Jennifer Bean, will ensure that the work is funded “when I’m gone,” Saavedra said.
This year’s designer, Scottsdale-based Lana Gerimovich, will display a collection of the elegant gowns and ensembles she is known for.
Pre-show entertainment will include a chance to browse along “fashionista lane,” an assortment of booths featuring the work of artisans and crafts people. Saavedra is still seeking vendors for the event; booth rental is $150.
He said the theme of the show is “Arias and Elegance” and opera singers will be entertaining visitors before and after the models appear.
Designer Gerimovich has composed the collection around the theme with a selection of gowns in deep reds and blues as well as fresh spring colors and the elegant bridal wear that is her speciality. Gerimovich studied at the Almaty School of Fashion Design in Kazakhstan and spent several years in Ukraine before moving to Rochester, N.Y., in 2002. In 2006, she moved her company to Phoenix.
Making a break with the custom of showing only outfits for tall, svelte models, Gerimovich will include clothing designed for women with fuller figures.
“She wants to identify with the audience,” Saavedra said.
Pennies for the Homeless helped around a dozen agencies at its start in 1993. That number has grown steadily and proceeds from the high tea and fashion show are disbursed evenly among them.
“We are always honored to be a recipient,” said Anita Cordova, director of development, planning and evaluation for Healthcare for the Homeless. The organization provides medical, dental and mental health and social services and helps clients secure long-term housing.
Cordova said Healthcare for the Homeless usually receives between $500 and $1,300 from the Pennies fundraising efforts. They use the money to help clients obtain state-issued identity cards, a critical need for homeless people who must show identification when seeking a place in a shelter, applying for Social Security or Medicaid, Cordova said.
“People lose those a lot while they are on the streets, so we’re constantly increasing our budget for ID cards,” she said.
The money also comes in handy for other items such as motel vouchers, bus passes and hygiene supplies, that can’t be covered because of the restrictions tied to most grant funding, she said.