No embargo or travel restrictions prevented about 350 people in Fort Smith from visiting Cuba on Saturday (March 3) at the home of Susan and Sam Fiori.
Havana Nights, a Cuban-themed party, catered to a sold-out crowd and raised money for the Children's Emergency Shelter.
Guests, some wearing latin-style straw hats with bands, mingled and dined on Cuban-themed cuisine catered by Golden Corral. Items were up for bid in both silent and live auctions. The Don Bailey quintet provided musical entertainment while Megan Hampel took party pictures made available for free via Facebook and Photobucket galleries. Outside on the patio, a long line formed at the mojito bar as bartender Jeff Price lined up the glasses and mixed the drinks at a feverish pace.
The cigar tent in the backyard was, without question, the highlight of the event. Torcedor, or cigar roller, Derrick Franke from Texas was making custom cigars by hand and explaining the process to curious guests and cigar aficionados alike. The cigars were available for purchase along with about seven other varieties on a table manned by John Rucchio and Kevin Ray, owner of Taylor's Pipe & Tobacco Shop. Jim Beam also had table where guests could sample premium rums and whiskeys.
The event came about when Pattie West, vice president of the board and chairman of fundraising for the shelter, approached Sam Fiori, a shelter supporter, with a request for a theme for this year's fund-raiser, said Jack Moffett, executive director of the shelter. Moffett said Fiori has been to similar events and suggested this theme.
"Sam is a cigar connoisseur; this isn't foreign land to him," said Moffett.
The Fiori family hosted last year's fund-raiser as well. It was a cookbook tasting party with recipes from a cookbook compiled and sold by the shelter.
The shelter expects to raise about $50,000 from Havana Nights, or 8 percent of its annual operating budget. The shelter receives 60 percent of its funding from state sources with the remainder coming from private donations and fund raising events.
"We're very fortunate in that we get a lot of small donations [throughout the year]. We have yet to operate in a deficit. The totaility of our fundraising meets our needs," Moffett said.
Tickets were $50 each and included mojitos and wine from several bars plus a cigar with a custom band printed with the Havana Nights name and logo. Additionally, sponsorship tickets, 100 in total, were sold from $250 – $5,000 and included multiple tickets and cigars depending on the cost. The top tier included limousine transportation to and from the event.
The Children's Emergency shelter can house 24 children ages 6-17 who have been removed from their guardians by child welfare authorities. After 45 days, the maximum length of stay, they can be placed back in their homes, foster care or a long term shelter depending on the circumstances. About 500 children are served by the shelter annually, said Moffett.