As Thanksgiving nears, freshly retired Montgomery High Principle Bill Stirnus and four food-friendly pals prepare to feed a great many needy people–through their culinary skills and generosity of their friends.
Stirnus and the guys in his cooking club -their aprons hail them as the Eastside Culinary Kings -launch the holidays for more than a hundred of their friends with an ingenious cocktail-and-hors d’oeuvres party.
Stirnus and the other Kings encourage their guests to bring along not a bottle of wine ora potted plant, but a check -a check made payable to one or another of the Sonoma County nonprofits that provide food to families and individuals whose income falls short of covering the grocery bill.
It’s a holiday win-win-win: The five fellows have a blast in the kitchen, their guests relish a festive and sumptuous social and people in need benefit from an expression ofcare that in four years has generated donations of about $30,000 to agencies such as the Redwood Empire Food Bank, Meals on Wheels and the Redwood Gospel Mission.
The party is a true labor of love for Stirnus and his pals, audiologist Peter Marincovich, private investigator Scott Wilmore and attorneys Dick Abbey and Rich Rudnansky.
For their sakes, it’s essential to note that though the five of them do all the cooking and planning, their wives-Leslie Stirnus, Carol Marincovich, Jan Wilmore, Mary Abbey and Linda Rudnansky-provide the invitations, desserts and indispensable support.
The holiday benefit happens at the Marincoviches’ place near Spring Lake Park.
“It’s just wall-to-wall people,” said Stirnus, who retired as Montgomery’s principal last year after 35 years in public education. “People in the community are very sociable; they like to get together.”
The party’s essential elements are a large and lively crowd, a wine bar (the Kings were fortunate in recent years to have the wine donated by Pacific Markets’ Brad and Christy Mojar) and a constant flow of tasty morsels from the Kings in the kitchen.
Though they change the menu a bit each year, each ofthe guys has a specialty or two that are musts. Bill makes stuffed mushrooms every year.
“Rick’s spicy skewered chicken is a big hlt; Scott does the won ton with salmon,” Marincovich said, adding with a humble grin that hls specialty seems to h~ve become cocktail wieners wrapped in dough. “I also do the quiche.”
The five Kings cook aAd serve, dressed in their uniforms of white shirts, black slacks and personalized aprons.
“It’s busy and we’re humpin’,” said Stirnus. The Kings’ wives and teens-orolder kids help out, too, parking cars and hoisting trays.
The guests, who receive their invitations in early October, are told simply that they are welcome to make a gift to the food bank or another organization that gets food to Sonoma County people who need it.
“They’re very generous,” Stirnus said. “We don’t put a price tag on it; we’re just throwing a party. We invite people to bring a check and throw it in the hat.”
Gift checks generally tend to range from $25 to $100. It’s not unusual for the event to bring in about $8,000-every dime of which goes to the food agencies. The Kings pay for everything, except the donated wine.
The Thanksgiving aid party evolved naturally from the five buddies’ shared passion for cooking and for contributing to the community. They started cooking sumptuous meals for their wives 17 years ago, and from there began to offer personally catered dinners as auction items at benefits sponsored by Canine Companions for Independence, the Volunteer Center, the boosters clubs at Montgomery and Maria Carrillo high schools and other groups.
Add up the proceeds of all the auctioned dinners and the pre-Thanksgiving cocktail parties, and the Eastside Culinary Kings have brought nearly $100,000 to local organizations that feed or in other ways serve people.
Oh, yeah. They’re cookin’.