Angelitos de Oro’s 55 Years of Service to Big Brothers Big Sisters 5

The group’s fundraising Angelitos Card celebrates 15 years

What began in 1961 as a suggestion by Big Brothers of Orange County board member Robert Guggenheim, when he asked Mrs. Spencer T. Honig and several of her friends to form an auxiliary in support of the organization, spawned a support group called Angelitos de Oro (“Golden Angels”). Fifty-five years later, the group is still going strong, having contributed nearly $6 million to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Orange County (girls were added later) of Orange County and the Inland Empire.

Early on, the founding group decided that membership would be limited to 55 (today it is 70) women so they could meet in each other’s homes and that their major means of fundraising would be a book featuring a calendar and advertisements from local merchants called “The Gold Book.” Each year, when the book was published, a formal dinner dance was held to celebrate the book’s completion.

By 1986, the 25th anniversary of Angelitos de Oro, the dinner dance was retired and the era of the gala fashion show begun. Held in a large tent adjacent to the upscale Amen Wardy store in Fashion Island, the sold-out events drew 600 guests with noted designers, such as Oscar de la Renta, Bob Mackie, Carolina Herrera and Bill Blass, making appearances.

A speaker’s series replaced the fashion extravaganza in the early 1990s and featured standouts like Barbara Bush, William Bennett, Larry King and Governor Mario Cuomo. Finally, after 35 years, the group’s signature Gold Book was retired.

In 2000, a new fundraising idea was presented to the group by Angelitos member Trish O’Donnell, who heard that a group in Dallas was selling a shopping card and raising lots of money for charity.

“Our membership voted to do the project and call it the Angelitos Card,” current Angelitos del Oro President Sherry Bilbeisi shares.

The first Angelitos Card effort was held at Fashion Island and when requests for a second year were non-responsive, the group turned to South Coast Plaza. That year’s co-chair Laraine Eggleston said she and chair Mary Anna Jeppe met with South Coast Plaza Managing Partner Anton Segerstrom and Marketing VP Debra Gunn Downing for approval. The idea was to sell Angelitos Cards to the public for five days of shopping with 20% discounts at a number of South Coast Plaza stores.

Past President Kate Eastman, who chaired the Angelitos Card event in 2005, remembers the impact.

“It was the beginning of tying shopping with a charitable cause, and our membership morphed, drawing younger members and making a name for our group in the community,” she says.

Eggleston, also a past president and chair of the group’s second Angelitos Card, further explains that she and co-chair Bonnie McClellan, along with Carolyn Garrett, created a new fundraising entity to raise additional income to meet the group’s desired donation to BBBS. Thus, Golden Angels was born to encourage the group’s Sustainer members to contribute.

“It has since grown exponentially to include many Active member donors, as well as corporate sponsors,” Eggleston says.

The effort now encompasses seven days of shopping and a special Preview Day, which invites those who purchase cards to enjoy a special fashion show at South Coast Plaza.

Bilbeisi credits South Coast Plaza’s support for the card’s success.

“They have maintained our relationship over the years, allowing us to meet and exceed our expected donations to BBBS,” she says.

At the heart of the effort is the women’s belief in the importance of Big Brothers Big Sisters’ mission in helping young people. The money Angelitos raises helps fund the High School “Bigs” Program, whereby high school students (“Bigs”) are paired with elementary school students (“Littles”) in a mentorship capacity. Nearly 40 schools are served.

BBBS Orange County CEO Melissa Beck sums up the Angelitos impact.

“Partnerships such as this one make it possible for us to serve more than 3,000 children annually through programs that improve the odds of youth performing better in school and avoiding violence and illegal activities.”