Although the spring equinox is in March, April seems to bring the “true” beginning of the season – warmer weather, fruits and flowers and, in Visalia on Friday, April 6, the “Annual Birdhouse (and Toto, Too) Auction” supporting Habitat for Humanity of Tulare/Kings Counties. More than 300 guests packed the room for the fun-filled evening at the Wyndham Hotel, along with committee members dressed as “Wizard of Oz” characters. Event volunteers, and restaurant and winery staff added even more enthusiasm and energy to support this worthy cause.

Since its founding in 1994 (as volunteer-run Habitat for Humanity, Visalia), Habitat for Humanity has worked with low-income families in Tulare and Kings counties to “… build or improve a place they can call home.” Over the years, with unselfish and dedicated backing from the community, Habitat has helped more than 400 local families build their assets, reduce their reliance on social support and improve their living conditions. Proceeds from the Birdhouse Auction are allocated to the home ownership program.

Now in its 13th year, the Birdhouse Auction benefits from the creativity and generosity of community members who build “dream homes” for backyard birds, and that of the guests who bid on and purchase them during the evening’s live auction. When planning this year’s event, the organizers talked about the number of dog lovers in the area and decided that it made perfect sense to add doghouses (and a “Wizard of Oz” theme) to the auction. Their decision did not disappoint; from reclaimed materials to new woods, every one of the 15 dog and birdhouses were bursting with charm and personality.

Steve Crotty, who has made stands for Paul Green’s birdhouses in the past, made his own bird feeder this year, using parts of vintage street lights; Green also donated his own beautifully carved creation. David Griswold, who has contributed birdhouses for all 13 auctions, built one with a dog weathervane on top this year. Benny Hernandez’ birdhouse, complete with directional signs, was made from old barn wood, and he also constructed a doghouse using new redwood. Students from Dinuba High School and Harmony Magnet Academy in Porterville brought in doghouses that they built, and Cacciatore Fine Wines, one of the event’s beverage donors, got into the spirit with a doghouse made out of a wine barrel!

Two exceptional displays of creativity must be mentioned. “Uncle Bill” Warner built an adorable doghouse he named “Au Gai Soleil” (“At the Happy Sun”). Topped by a removable roof with storage, the house also boasts a front porch overhang with a solar panel that powers the porch’s ceiling fan. Lest the birds feel neglected, he built a birdhouse to go with it.

Using home-building materials, David Ochoa made an extraordinary Tin Man Birdhouse that perfectly captured the theme of the event. This was especially fitting as David and his wife, Anna (who works in Habitat’s ReStore shop), are Habitat for Humanity homeowners. A definite success story, last year, they opened their tree service business, Creative Tree Service, and are proud to give back to the organization that helped them.

Guests enjoyed socializing as they perused the more than 80 silent auction packages displayed to bid on. Members of the Main Gallery Artist Group donated artwork, one of Habitat’s key volunteers made a beautiful quilt, Brown’s Heating & Air Conditioning donated a practical one year of free maintenance, GJ Gardiner contributed two 4-hour handyman sessions, and local businesses donated the always anticipated gift cards, tickets to events and merchandise baskets.

A Photobot Booth provided by The Source LGBT + Center kept everyone amused with accessories to try on as they took photos to share on social media. It is hoped that publicizing the event in real time to those who weren’t able to attend will generate even more interest in Habitat for Humanity and future supporting activities.

Delicious food and drinks were in abundance, thanks to the generosity of community restaurants, wineries and stores. Guests were served samplings of dinner and dessert dishes from repeat participants A&W Root Beer, Applebee’s, Black Bear Diner, Chapala Grill, Corner Bakery Café, Henry Salazar’s, Jack & Charlie’s, Javi’s Taco Shack, La Piazza Ristorante Italiano, Mache, Marriott Hotel, Rosa’s Italian Ristorante, Sadie Mae’s Catering, SueSa’s Creative Catering, Tahoe Joe’s, the Southern Pacific Depot, Vintage Press and Wyndham Hotel. Joining the festivities for the first time in 2018 were Quality Meats and Ryan’s Place. Beverages were generously provided by event regulars ASV Wines, Cacciatore Fine Wines, Eric Shannon-CRS Farming LLC, Grocery Outlet and Shannon Ranch.

To highlight the generosity of all the dinner donors, Habitat presented each with a plaque recognizing their commitment. “We’re just so appreciative that they take the time and energy to come out and donate the food (and drinks),” said Deanna Saldana, development director.

The large crowd, fun theme, and assortment of innovative bird and doghouses inspired an energetic live auction captained by master auctioneer Flint Epps, as bidders raised their paddles for their favorites. Winning bids from this portion of the evening helped bring the estimated total event proceeds to more than $57,000, critical funds that will enable the agency continue to fulfill its mission.

The event grows more popular with each year, and everyone is already looking forward to 2019. Whether more houses for different animals will be added to the auction remains to be seen, but the immeasurable impact that Habitat for Humanity Tulare/Kings Counties has on our community is visible every day.