Samaritan Center Dinner and Auction

In July, the Samaritan Center held their 19th annual dinner and auction at Capitol Plaza Hotel. Each year, the event has a different garden theme dedicated to raising funds to help their mission grow. The services they provide include a local food pantry; clothing, medical, dental and legal care; tax assistance; and help for parents and children. All of the funds raised stay right here in Mid-Missouri to help individuals and families in need.

Samaritan Center Dinner and Auction
Janet Branson, Denise Kuensting, Jeni DeFeo, Marylyn DeFeo, and Amber Scheidt

As if that weren’t a big enough impact, what makes the summer fundraiser for the Samaritan Center so unique is that it is 100% volunteer led. Jeni DeFeo, a full-time teacher at Thomas Jefferson Middle School, spends her entire summer working on this event with other dedicated volunteers and has for the last two decades.

It is my pride and joy that proceeds from this event stay local… There are some years when the money we make at the event on Thursday evening is needed to help someone on Monday morning.

“I was pregnant with my first child 22 years ago, working summer school in the heat, and my mother-in law, Marylyn DeFeo (executive director and founder of the Samaritan Center), said she wanted to do a fundraiser,” Jeni says. “I came in green, not knowing anything about fundraising. I was convinced when you asked somebody to help they just do it. Thankfully, that is absolutely true in this town.”

The event features a social hour, silent auction, live auction, and fun games — including a candy bar raffle, wine and dine (an adult grab bag with a bottle of wine and a gift certificate for dinner), a flower pull, a booze wagon, and polling for pallets. Originally held in the St. Joseph Cathedral Undercroft, the event quickly outgrew the space after the first three years, and they moved it to Capitol Plaza Hotel. The event has raised more than $2 million over the last 19 years.

“It is my pride and joy that proceeds from this event stay local. Everything goes back into services at the Samaritan Center. There are some years when the money we make at the event on Thursday evening is needed to help someone on Monday morning.”

Jeni relies heavily on the steadfast volunteers that help with the event each year. She credits Janet Branson, who has been helping for the last 18 years, with bringing great ideas to keep the event theme and offerings fresh each year. Jan Marbaker, a volunteer for the last 10 years, always jumps in to help with decorations. She also relies on Samaritan Center staff Denise Kuensting, Amber Scheidt, and Robyn Witt, who juggle their regular work at the center as well as auction business during the summer months.

It is this team approach that makes this event shine year after year and constantly serves as a reminder of the shared vision.

“The Samaritan Center is a place that keeps families going, and to help fi ll that gap is so powerful. Those kids didn’t go hungry today and had a balanced meal because of our work.”

As a teacher, Jeni has learned a lot from kids over the years — both in the classroom where she teaches and with the kids she serves at the Samaritan Center. But, is the selfless example set by her mother-in-law that has made a lasting impact for herself and her family.

“Marylyn is a saint among women. She told me the other day she was lucky she had me, but I’m so lucky to have her. She instilled in me and our family that you have to give back. If God gives you the opportunity, you have to give back. Knowing that I have helped these families gives me peace of mind. It’s a lot of work, but it’s also a lot of fun.”

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