SALINAS VALLEY — Hundreds of South Monterey County residents gathered last Thursday to raise thousands of dollars for a good cause while showing what it means to support one of their own.
With a turnout of nearly 700 guests, a fundraiser was held March 23 inside the Orradre Building at the Salinas Valley Fairgrounds in King City to benefit Rita McCormack Tavernetti, who has primary biliary cholangitis (PBC), a chronic liver disease, and is in need of a liver transplant.
Family, friends, neighbors and community members came together to show their outpouring of support and love for Rita.
“Hosting this fundraiser helped us spread the awareness of what it means to become a living liver donor, and also what it means to have a community that feels like family,” said Rita’s daughter Brooke Tavernetti, on behalf of the Tavernetti and McCormack families. “The love and support during this time has really shown through to Rita and her family.”
Thursday’s fundraiser included live music by Brooks & Bee, Jasper & Jade and country duo Crossroads, while King City Young Farmers cooked the barbecued steak dinner and Knights of Columbus managed the no-host bar.
There were also 134 unique silent auction items, 18 live auction items and more than 60 handmade desserts. The highlight of the evening was Rita’s famous homemade apple pie, which sold as a live auction item purchased by the Jerry Rava family for $16,000.
In total, more than $150,000 was raised that night to contribute toward Rita and her future living donor’s hospital and recovery expenses.
“What an amazing group of people that helped make this happen,” Brooke said.
Deep roots in South County
The Tavernetti and McCormack families have a long history in King City and the southern Monterey County area.
The Tavernettis have lived in Monterey County since the mid-1800s, with Leroy Tavernetti starting Tavernetti Motors, Vin Tavernetti owning Texaco Bulk Plant and Paul Tavernetti contributing to this day with his successful construction business, Two Team Construction.
With Salinan Native American heritage, the McCormacks also have deep roots in the Jolon Valley, where the Salinan Indians were one of the first residents of the land. Along with Ted McCormack tending to his barley and wheat fields starting in the 1970s, Helen McCormack owned and operated the Bunte General Store in San Lucas for over 10 years.
Rita, 59, lives in King City with her husband Paul Tavernetti, and together they have two adult children, daughter Brooke and son Josh. Rita has worked with children with learning disabilities in Monterey County schools for more than 20 years, but recently she had to stop working due to her declining health.
“Rita is lucky to have grown up with these families and on these lands her whole life, but now is asking for our help in finding a living donor, ‘her hero,’” Brooke said.
Finding a living donor
Along with having autoimmune hepatitis, Rita’s PBC has progressed and caused her liver to be cirrhotic.
Although she has been under the care of a hepatologist at Stanford Medical Hospital for many years and they have prescribed medication to slow the progression of the disease, Rita was put on the liver transplant list a year ago with approximately 12,000 others.
At a recent visit to Stanford, Rita was told she needed a transplant as soon as possible since the disease has progressed and had started to affect other organs.
Once she can get the transplant, Rita and a family member will stay in an apartment in the Stanford vicinity for several months or more until the doctors are certain her body has accepted the liver transplant and she begins to thrive again.
The future living donor will also be unable to work and will need some time to recover.
“We plan to be able to provide some financial help during this time for both Rita and her living donor,” Brooke said.
The liver is the only organ that can regenerate itself fully within three to four months. The donor will have to be someone willing to donate 1/3 of their liver to Rita in order for her to heal and help her live a normal life again.
The qualifications consist of being between the ages of 18 and 55, competent and willing to donate, compatible blood match (Rita is blood type 0+ but 0- or 0+ are accepted), in good physical and mental health, without diabetes or drug/alcohol dependencies.
“We have been searching for months and are still looking for a living donor,” Brooke said.
Outpouring of support
As seen during last Thursday’s fundraiser, the community has genuinely expressed its support and compassion toward Rita and her cause.
“We could not thank everyone enough who contributed to this cause,” Brooke said.
Rita originally asked her family to keep this health journey of hers quiet. Due to the urgency of the situation, however, she realized she needed to share her story in hopes of finding a donor by doing so.
In a letter to family and friends written this past October, Rita announced her diagnosis and stated that she is very grateful to have “such wonderful supportive friends and family.”
“This hasn’t been easy for me to write, but time is of the essence,” she said. “I am still hopeful of a long life to enjoy opportunities, adventures and time with precious family and friends. I appreciate your thoughts and prayers on this journey that I am about to endure.”
Since going public, Rita has received so much support during this process and is now seeking her liver donor “hero.”
“Through hosting this fundraising event, we realize our community has some very special hearts residing here,” Brooke said. “We are overwhelmed and appreciate everyone’s contributions.”
If interested in donating to Rita’s cause, or for any questions about the living donor process, message the following family members for more information: Brooke Tavernetti at [email protected]; Heidi Tavernetti at [email protected]; or Kathy McCormack at [email protected].
To learn more about the transplant process, visit the American Liver Association website liverfoundation.org.
Brooke Tavernetti contributed to this article.