BBCC Foundation event 'Cellarbrates' 15 years

Cellarbration for Education has raised more than $1 million for scholarships

Food & Drink Posted on Apr 15, 2016
Cellarbration! for Education has raised more than $1 million for student scholarships at Big Bend Community College in its first 15 years from the generosity of local donors and organizations. But the event’s founders worried in 2002 it might flop. Black tie optional. $100 per plate. Fine wine paired with a gourmet meal. The college foundation board didn‘t know if this type of fundraiser would be well received. It had not been tried in Moses Lake.

John Allen of Vino Wine Shop in Spokane was hired as a consultant to convince a skeptical board that local college supporters would attend such a fundraiser and that it would be successful. “We didn’t know if people would pay $100 a plate for dinner. We didn’t know if local people would dress up. We certainly didn’t know much about fine wine and gourmet food,” said Paul Hirai, BBCC Foundation board member.

The first Gourmet Wine Dinner and Auction sold out at the Moses Lake Golf and Country Club and raised $25,500. The foundation board learned there were quite a few local people looking for the opportunity to dress up for a special dinner paired with Washington wine.

Today the annual goal is to raise $100,000 in the larger venue of the Masto Conference Center. The name was changed to Cellarbration! for Education, and more than 200 people can attend.

The duo of John Allen and Butch Milbrandt of Milbrandt Brothers Vineyards has been with the event since its inception. Milbrandt sources most of the wine for the event. Allen leads the wine tasting with Milbrandt every year.

Pairing the wine with the executive chef’s five-course dinner is an annual ritual. The rights to participate in the wine/food pairing are sold at auction. The event involves a lot of wine bottles in brown paper bags to hide their identity during the tasting. The committee also makes suggestions to the chef for the presentation of the courses.

The organizers decided to feature only Washington wines for the dinner to support the thousands of acres of wine grapes grown locally and the steady stream of new wineries opening across the state.

“We sell wine from around the world at auction, but we serve only Washington wines for the dinner,” said Leanne Parton, Executive Director of the BBCC Foundation.

Much of the success of the event can be attributed to the high energy of auctioneer Chuck Yarbro, Jr., and his family. The Yarbros have worked every event, know the audience, and squeeze the bidders for every dollar.

“When Chuck Yarbro, Jr. is wearing a tuxedo, wiping sweat from his brow while working the bidders, and telling them ‘It’s only money’, you know you are going to have a good night,” said Parton.

“When out-of-town visitors see the show and ask where we found Chuck Yarbro, Jr.,” said Parton, “we just say he is local.”

The purpose of all the work is to raise money for the Foundation Scholarship Fund. In 2002, the fund was in danger of being depleted. Without fundraising focused on the fund, scholarship awards would have been drastically reduced.

Fifteen years later the Foundation Scholarship Fund has grown so that it can provide scholarships for at least one graduating senior from the 19 high schools in the college’s service district (larger schools get more than one), scholarships for returning students who have been out of school for a while, and scholarships specifically for students in professional/technical programs.

The event also raises approximately $10,000 each year for a special fund to help BBCC students in good standing deal with financial emergencies, so they don’t have to drop out of school.