In keeping with a Baltimore tradition, partygoers will raise a glass - and money Thursday night for Christmas gifts for needy children.
The wine tasting at the National Federation of the Blind benefits Santa Claus Anonymous, a local organization that has been providing holiday presents to kids for the past 75 years. This year the group hopes to raise $300,000, which will find its way to needy families via some 20,000 $15 gift certificates.
Unique to Baltimore, Santa Claus Anonymous was started in 1934 by Theodore R. McKeldin, who went on to become mayor of Baltimore and governor of Maryland, the only Republican to hold both offices.
The program is designed to enable parents and guardians of needy children to buy presents using gift certificates provided by Santa Claus Anonymous.
"We work in the background," said David R. Blumberg, president of Santa Claus Anonymous. "The kids get the presents, the parents or guardians get the credit."
Blumberg said Santa Claus Anonymous cooperates with the Department of Social Services and its equivalent agencies in Baltimore City and seven surrounding metropolitan counties to identify eligible recipients, families with children 3-12 years old. Gift certificates of $15 each are mailed to the homes of the recipients. The gift certificates can be redeemed at area participating merchants. The merchants in turn send a discounted bill to Santa Claus Anonymous for reimbursement.
"The gift certificates can only be used for toys and clothes for children, and there is a time limit. They have to be used by New Year's Day," Blumberg said.
He said the organization recognizes the limited scope of its works. "We know how tough it must be for some families at Christmas, so we do what we can."
The organization has only one paid staff member and relies on fundraisers such as the wine tasting, an annual flag football game with the teams' entry fees going to the charity, a "Santa Sails" event that offers catamaran rides in exchange for donations and an annual mail solicitation to meet its goals. The wine tasting, in its 18th year, draws a crowd of "young professionals," Blumberg said.
"Like a lot of charities, fundraising is tough in this economic climate," he said. But Blumberg said donations, which dipped last year, are increasing this year.
Over the past 75 years the organization has received many letters of thanks, he said. But one testament to its work that sticks with Blumberg comes from Jim "Bud" Russell.
Russell, 56, said that when he was a child living in Baltimore's Claremont Homes, a public housing complex, he received a Christmas toy through the program.
In the intervening years, he has served as president of the organization and last week was soliciting items such as a golf outing at Caves Valley Country Club for a silent auction that will be held at the wine tasting.
"The majority of our funds come in the mail. But the wine tasting really energizes the campaign," Russell said.
Tickets for the Dec. 3 wine tasting are $55 in advance, $65 at the door. They can be purchased online at santaclausanonymous.org.