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story.lead_photo.caption Jeni DeFeo welcomes guests Thursday to the 17th annual Samaritan Center Dinner and Auction at the Capitol Plaza Hotel. Proceeds from the event will benefit the programs of the Samaritan Center to serve people in need in Cole, Osage, Maries, Miller, Moniteau and southern Callaway counties. Photo by Sally Ince / News Tribune.

The 700 people who attended the 17th annual dinner and auction benefiting the Samaritan Center represented hope, Marylyn DeFeo said.

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The event, with the theme of "Heroes of the Garden," was expected to raise $100,000-$120,000 for the nonprofit organization that serves as a food pantry and offers seasonal clothing, blankets and household items for community members. It also provides a free clinic for people without Medicaid or other insurance.

Within her message to attendees of Thursday night's event, DeFeo, the founder of the center, said she recently watched a Superman movie. She was struck by the "S" not standing for "super" or strength, but instead stood for hope.

To her, she said, folks attending the event were heroes because they gave hope to people in the community.

She, like everybody else in the room leads a very busy life, said DeFeo's daughter-in-law Jeni DeFeo, who is a middle school teacher and annually serves as the event coordinator.

"I see the efforts of the heroes in this room every day," Jeni said. "There are kids that come to my room — there are kids that come to my building — that depend on the money we raise tonight, that depend on the services of the Samaritan Center throughout the year."

The money raised may help them have lights at night so they can do homework. It may provide meals they can make for themselves or their brothers and sisters while mom and dad are trying to hold down multiple jobs, Jeni said.

"When we talk about donating money for foods that are child-friendly, it kind of hits me in the feels," Jeni said. "Having three teenagers who are all track and cross-country runners, we go through an immense amount of groceries in our house."

The Samaritan Center serves 1,600 families every month, she said. That works out to roughly 4,000 children.

The event raises money to feed those children through a silent auction, a live auction and through a number of other activities.

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Silent auction items included wall art, cupcakes, "Hometown fun" packages, bicycles, a pedal tractor, toys, grills, quilts, book baskets, jewelry, fur, hair products, weekend getaways, golf packages, professional sports packages, wine packages, discounts on home services, and small appliances.

The live auction included the annual Burger's Smokehouse ham, a tradition for the event. The "Samaritan Center Ham" — as it's known — was first auctioned off during the inaugural event in 2002. It was auctioned off not once, but twice, because the original bidder donated it back to the auction and told the center to sell it again. It brought in more than $600 for the first auction. The tradition grew to the point where the ham is donated back multiple times. It was expected to raise more than $10,000 Thursday night. Last year, it brought in $11,350.

The live auction also includes a "Lunch with the Mayor" package, in which the winner and a guest will have lunch with Mayor Carrie Tergin in her office.

"Dogwood," art by Henry Domke, was valued at more than $500.

A metal sign and a comic, both autographed by Stan Lee, the co-creator of Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk, Black Panther, the X-Men, Daredevil, Iron Man, Thor, Doctor Strange, and many other characters in Marvel comics was available in the live auction.

Longtime Samaritan Center supporters reached into their private wine reserves and offered a case of their finest wine as a live auction item.

Four tickets to the Sept. 3 baseball game between the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants were available in a package.

As were many more items.

"The live auction is always a huge hit," Jeni said before the event. "And we always have the ham."

Betty Graf, who plays Bridge with Marylyn, said she attends the event every year.

"Marylyn and I are buddies from way back," she said. "I went out and looked at everything (in the silent auction). They've got nice things. I took a chance on flowers."