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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Houston media members dress up as toys

KHOU-TV's Chita Johnson, KTRK-TV's Andy Cerota, KHOU-TV's Courtney Zubowski, Event Co-Chair Joan Schnitzer Levy, KUHT-TV's Ernie Manouse, KTRK-TV's Miya Shay, KTRK-TV's Tom Koch (emcee and head auctioneer) and kneeling is KTRK-TV's Casey Curry at the 31st Annual ESCAPE Celebrity Serve Benefit at Tony's. 

Who let the toys out? Houston media personalities were out “toying around” as Barbie Doll, Sesame Street and Toy Story characters at Tony’s for the 31st Annual “Toy Box” ESCAPE Celebrity Serve Benefit Sunday night. But the monies raised meant serious business for the ESCAPE Family Resource Center, whose mission is to prevent child abuse and neglect before a child is hurt. No “play money” here: corporate and individual sponsorships, topped by a high-bidding “live” auction and limited edition raffle, generated a whopping $323,000 for ESCAPE coffers.

With Co-Chairs Joan Schnitzer Levy and Gerald Franklin at the helm and Janice and Bob McNair, founder, chairman and CEO of the HOUSTON TEXANS, as the “Hometown Superstar” headliners, the colorful, fun-filled dinner was destined for “To Infinity and Beyond” success. Tony’s was transformed into a virtual toy box, with curly-Q and toy-animal balloons and play toys as centerpieces and local media celebrities and personalities decked out in creative Toy Box togs and ESCAPE aprons. The celebs’ mission: to sell “Buzz Lightyear” specialty drinks, limited edition raffle tickets and various trinkets and candies to support ESCAPE’s bottom line.

Longtime, deeply committed ESCAPE supporters Kristi (who previously worked in radio and had a mini reunion with News 92 FM Radio’s Lanny Griffith, a celebrity server) and John D. Schiller Jr., (Executive Committee member of ESCAPE), whose Energy XXI company was the top (“Starship”) sponsor of the benefit, were the high bidders on more than one “live” auction items, including an NFL Football autographed on-the-spot by Bob McNair, and a spur-of-the-moment package offered up by actor Lee Majors and his wife, Faith. -- dinner for six with the Majors! The Majors, who are new Houstonians, were table guests of Joan Schnitzer Levy and husband Irvin. Majors is famous for his role as TV’s “$6 Million Man.”

Restaurateur Tony Vallone welcomed an overflow crowd of 300 ESCAPE supporters who filled the entire restaurant. Guests raved about the exquisite menu complemented by wines generously donated by Becker Vineyards. In addition to the 25 or so media celebrities lined up by Celebrity Chair Kim Padgett and make-believe action figures like G.I. Joe (Stylist Todd Ramos) and adorably made-up Toy Soldier Edward Sanchez, there were some very real-life action heroes in the house, namely NASA astronauts Gene Cernan (and wife, Jan), and Walt Cunningham (and wife, Dot). KHOU-TV anchor Chita Johnson, KHOU-TV Reporter Courtney Zubowski, KTRK-TV Meteorologist Casey Curry and KUHT-TV Host Ernie Manouse (who assisted KTRK-TV Anchor and Emcee Tom Koch with auctioneer duties) were centers of attention in their Barbie Doll, Woody (sans “Buzz Lightyear”), Candyland and Ernie (sans “Bert”) personas. Other Celebrity Servers on tap: Buzz Lady Roseann Rogers, KTRK-TV reporter Andy Cerota, KIKK/FOX 26’s Cleverley Stone, Absolutely! Memorial’s Lara Bell, Shara Fryer, The 9-5-0 Radio’s Michael Garfield, Houston Chronicle Society Writer Lindsey Love and KTRK-TV Reporter Miya Shay. Susan Farb Morris, a.k.a. the PR Fairy, came dressed as a PR Fairy Princess, complete with a tiara.

According to Lidya K. Osadchey, CEO of the ESCAPE Family Resource Center, the Celebrity Serve Benefit is a major annual source of funding for the 501(c)(3) nonprofit and is held in April as part of National Child Abuse Prevention Month. For more info about ESCAPE, call (713) 942-9500, ext. 14, or go to

This post was written by guest blogger Susan Farb Morris.

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