On an early evening, the city of Oakland is brimming with the hustle and bustle of the 9 to 5 work group. Runners, bikers, and families hug the perimeter of Lake Merritt as they squeeze in time for fitness and relaxation. The sounds of rush hour traffic fill the air but on the lakefront, all is still.
“It’s peaceful out here,” said Angelino Sandri, owner and gondolier for Gondola Servizio in Oakland. He smiles as he skims across the surface of the lake in his antique gondola. Mallards swim by and rowers glide nearby.
For the past 12 years, Sandri and his wife, April, have established themselves as the only gondola service in Oakland and the Bay Area. Tonight they’ll be donating a boat ride to a participant in the Sequoyah Country Club’s golf tournament and dinner benefiting those affected by last month’s earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
Nearly 150 golfers will take to the 18-hole course at Sequoyah Country Club in Oakland this afternoon for the “Ganbare Japan” event, which means “Cheer up, Japan.” One of the raffle prizes will be a romantic hour-long gondola ride on Lake Merritt provided by Gondola Servizio.
“This is the first time the country club, itself, has taken the initiative to organize a fundraiser for a major disaster,” Fred Perkins said, event coordinator and Sequoyah Country Club member.
“It’s an international gesture—I think that’s really important,” Sandri said. “Whenever you have a moment to help people, the community comes together and that’s always a good thing.”
Perkins, his wife Tracy, and a group of 25 volunteers began organizing the tournament and benefit about a month ago. They are teaming up with Lantern Projects, a non-profit organization that distributes 100 percent of the charitable contributions it collects to those in need.
Despite the tough economy, Perkins says donors have been supportive of the event.
One member from the Sequoyah Country Club donated $5,000 to the event out of his pocket for the benefit, he said. “We’re still suffering in this economy but a lot of people are being very generous,” Perkins said.
The tournament kicks off this afternoon with two teams of four at every hole. Perkins said there are about 36 foursomes in the entire tournament. At $125 per person, the tournament offers golfers a cart, an 18-hole game, and several perks at various holes along the course. For instance, when golfers tee off at the 10th hole, they’ll be treated to sushi rolls provided by True World Foods. Four holes down, golfers can sip on a shot of sake while they practice their swing. Throughout the course, golfers can enjoy wine tastings from Napa Station, a Napa-based winery that donated two cases of wine to the tournament.
And at hole 17 golfers will have the opportunity actually go home with a prize, under one condition: “Subaru of Albany has offered a brand new Subaru Outback as a hole-in-one prize,” Perkins said.
After the tournament, attendees will have the opportunity to sign a “Ganbare Japan” banner with the names of all the sponsors and those who participated in the event. When the event is over, the Sequoyah Country Club will hand the banner over to Japan Airlines, and it will be flown to the area most affected by the disaster.
The tournament will be followed by dinner provided by the Sequoyah Country Club, featuring items from Oakland-based vendors including Sierra Meat, C and L Produce, and Horizon Beverage, Oakland’s Budweiser distributor. Prior to dinner, guests will bid on an assortment of items on display at the silent auction including wine baskets, restaurant certificates to local eateries, and of course, an authentic gondola ride on Lake Merritt.
Sandri hopes those who enjoy the gondola gift package will view the experience as a “working museum” that offers insight into the history of gondolas. “Everything is historical. When we do a tour, we talk about the city of Venice and its history so people can relive a few moments, learn something new,” he said. “And, of course; people think the gondoliers are singers so we sing a few Italian songs.”
Gondola Servizio offers daily boat tour bookings of Lake Merritt, but as for today’s gala and golf tournament, the guest list is full. “We sold out about a week ago,” Perkins said.