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FPFC holiday luncheon generates record donation

CERRITOS, CA — The Fresh Produce & Floral Council's annual Holiday Luncheon & Charity Auction raised close to $60,000 for two very worthwhile programs: Let's Move Salad Bars to Schools and the Wounded Warrior Project.

The event, which was held Dec. 12 at the Sheraton Hotel, here, featured Celebrity Guest Auctioneer Frankie Avalon and industry auction hosts Kent Kuwata of Smart & Final and Bill Laliberte of WJL Distributors.

Mr. Kuwata kept the serious aspect of the bidding moving forward for each item, while Mr. Avalon added a celebrity flair ryanRyan Fukuda of Avocados From Mexico, which was one of the luncheon sponsors.and some entertainment to the event and Mr. Laliberte kept the crowd in stitches with his irreverent banter and salty language.

The three hosts also played an integral role in the auction as Mr. Laliberte donated several sets of basketball tickets and even was the winning bidder on some of his own donations. Mr. Kuwata was also an active bidder, while one of the highlight items on the auction block were some tickets to Frankie Avalon's Las Vegas show, including a trip backstage to hobnob with the well-heeled.

As always, the top auction item was lunch with Roger Schroeder, vice president of produce and floral for Stater Bros. Family Markets in Colton, CA. The auction item includes a slot in the produce section of Stater Bros.' weekly newspaper ad at some point in 2013. The winning bid was $10,000 by Jim Leimkuhler of Progressive Produce.

After the official auction was completed, Dick Spezzano of Spezzano Consulting and a chairman of an effort to donate 350 salad bars to California schools next year, came to the podium and announced his own donation of a school salad bar, which costs in the neighborhood of $2,500. That set off a frenzy of salad bar donations by the crowd.

The effort, which is spearheaded by the United Fresh Produce Association, will culminate with the presentation of those salad bars at the association's convention in San Diego in May.

In fact, the FPFC's afternoon luncheon was preceded by a salad bar seminar in the morning sponsored jointly by the FPFC and United Fresh. The seminar featured a handful of school foodservice directors in Southern California that have already received donated salad bars. Each director praised the donations and credited the presence of the salad bars for boosting fruit and vegetable consumption at their schools.

Universally, the foodservice directors said that the salad bars are loved by students and are instrumental in helping schools reach the new dietary guidelines for school lunches.

One noteworthy fact: they all mentioned that jicama is the most popular item in those salad bars.