By Laurie Jervis

With John Cox of Los Olivos’ The Bear and Star in place as guest chef for the dinner, and lots of wine, dining and travel experiences secured for the live and silent auctions, the Santa Barbara Vintners Foundation’s biennial event will take place Feb. 17 at the Ritz-Carlton Bacara and will once again benefit Direct Relief.

In the wake of the Thomas Fire and Montecito flash flooding and mud flows, the Goleta-based nonprofit organization is focused on local relief efforts, but also assists with national and international disasters.

Direct Relief works with more than 1,000 health clinics across the country to help during emergencies and an ongoing basis, providing them with free medications for people in need.

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Most recently, in addition to helping distribute 400,000 breathing masks for residents affected by the Thomas Fire, Direct Relief airlifted 152,604 pounds of urgently needed medical resources to Puerto Rico, where medical shortages persist more than three months after Hurricane Maria leveled the island.

Since 2000, the Vintners Foundation, the charitable arm of Santa Barbara Vintners, has donated more than $4.5 million to Direct Relief.

Monies raised from the dinner and auction in prior years helped launch Direct Relief USA, the largest U.S. pharmaceuticals program and one that operates in all 50 states.

“This is our 10th auction in support of Direct Relief, and we are extremely proud every time we see their commitment to increasing medical well-being around the globe at work,” said Sherill O’Neill of the Vintners Foundation.

“Unfortunately, Direct Relief has been at the forefront of the news a lot lately. But thanks to their supporters, they have the resources to mobilize quickly and effectively when the need arises.”

In recent weeks, Direct Relief has committed $100,000 to assist undocumented residents of Santa Barbara and Ventura counties who were affected by the Thomas Fire and flooding via the 805 UndocuFund.

Among the victims of fire and flood were farmworkers whose homes were damaged or lost, and many employed in the industries such as landscaping, hospitality, child care and housekeeping lost wages due to smoke hazards and road closures, according to a news release.

The UndocuFund will assist local residents who are excluded from federally funded assistance programs because of immigration status. The fund is modeled after a similar effort that assisted more than 1,000 immigrant families affected by the Tubbs Fire in Northern California.

The 805 UndocuFund was established by immigrant-serving organizations in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, including CAUSEMICOP and Future Leaders of America, with support from the McCune Foundation and the Ventura County Community Foundation.

Direct Relief is the sole humanitarian nonprofit to be designated by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy as a verified-accredited wholesale distributor of pharmaceuticals and other medical supplies. The organization holds credentials and memberships with a variety of professional organizations, government agencies and jurisdictions, according to its website.

Cox, of The Bear and Star, is renowned for his sustainable approach to local cuisine. Born in Texas, he found inspiration from the Sante Fe food scene as a teen, trained at the New England Culinary Institute and honed his skills at the famed Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur.

Cox has partnered with the family of the late Fess Parker to open The Bear and Star, which showcases the bounty of the Parker home ranch.

In May, the Vintners Foundation announced that Fred Brander, longtime winemaker and owner of The Brander Vineyard in Los Olivos, would be the evening’s honoree.

Brander will be feted as “Vintner of the Year” for his vision and dedication in identifying, developing and promoting Santa Barbara County as a leading wine region, Vintner Foundation organizers noted.

Born and raised in Buenos Aires, he later moved with his family to the United States, and they settled in Santa Barbara.

In the early 1970s, Brander convinced his family to plant a vineyard along Highway 154, just east of Los Olivos in the eastern end of the Santa Ynez Valley.

The first grapes were planted in 1975, making the Brander Vineyard one of Santa Barbara County’s earliest vineyards.

A limited number of dinner and auction tickets remain available at $500 per person, O’Neill said. To reserve space, contact Jen Jones at Direct Relief at

— Laurie Jervis blogs about wine at, tweets at @lauriejervis and can be reached via The opinions expressed are her own. This article first appeared on Noozhawk