Sunday, June 29, 2008

Gina Alexander and the Bag of HOPE

Article & photos by Jay Fermin PW

Los Angeles: A bevy of celebrities and hundreds of well dressed advocates and sponsors came out to the hip and trendy Twin Palms Restaurant in Old Pasadena one comfortable June evening to support a very good cause. Gina Alexander, the Filipina entrepreneur and designer made famous by her creation of “Photo Handbags” that have garnered a huge celebrity following including Penelope Cruz, Faith Hill, Halle Berry to name a few – has dedicated her business and success to helping the less fortunate children in the Philippines thru her very own GAPP project.

Gina Alexander Philanthropy Project (GAPP) hosted the 2nd Annual Center of HOPE worldwide Celebrity Benefit last June 1, 2008. Spotted at the red carpet and greeted by a constant barrage of camera flashes and TV cameras were Singer and former American Idol Season 3 finalist Camille Velasco, Chilli of the R&B group TLC, Janie Hendrix (sister of Jimi Hendrix and CEO of Experience Hendrix), Jelyn Rodriguez (Bar Starz), Jesse Brune (actor: Workout Bravo), Kelly Hu (Xmen 2), Lara Avengoza (Singer), Manny Guevarra (KISS FM), Mark Dacascos (Actor), the Disney High School Musical cast members composed of Eddie Kaulukukui, Jenny Schoone, & Evan Saucedo (Everwood), Monica Parales (Singer), Jennifer Braff (actress & Executive Assistant: Los Angeles Lakers), Rodel Gonzales (Singer, Side A), Sheila E. (Musician), The Basco Brothers, young pop stars The G*Girlz (Savannah, Keana & Destinee), Willy Santos (pro Skateboarder), Erik & Amber Gustafson (Just Off Turner) and many more.

Cher Calvin (KTLA Morning News Anchor) co-emceed the evening with actor/singer Michael Copon (That’s So Raven, Power Rangers, One Tree Hill). It was indeed different when 2005 Emmy Award recipient Cher Calvin greeted the guests with a pleasant “Good Evening”, quite different from her usual early morning greeting on KTLA Channel 5 morning news. Cher believes it is important to give back to the community. (She is also the spokesperson for A3M, The Asian Miracle Marrow Matches charity).

The GAPP project sponsored the 2nd Annual Center of HOPE worldwide Celebrity Benefit to send aid to underprivileged and abandoned children in the Philippines and the world. “Adopting my daughter Katelyn inspired me to be more involved,” says Gina Alexander. “I have a deep love for my people and strong desire to help more children in the Philippines. I always look at her (Katelyn) and ask myself where she would be if we did not open our hearts and minds as an act of love….” Gina stated.

And the night’s well-attended fundraiser dinner and silent auction attested to that passion and endeavor. Notable items at the silent auction tables were the Kobe Bryant autographed Basketball, autographed Na Leo CDs, Kingdom Gems, House of Blues ticket for four, a Janis Joplin painting, Pete Escovedo painting, Jimi Hendrix Leather Jacket (size XXL), High School Musical Gift Basket, prints of the band ‘Sting’ by photographer Michael Weintrob, a beautiful handcrafted bag by another Fil-Am Designer RAFE of New York (, painting by artist Judy Vandergrift, a collection of signature Gina Alexander Inc. handbags, and autographed copies of the new books by Jack Canfield (famous for his Chickensoup for the Soul series) namely ‘Key for Living’ and ‘Gratitude.’

Gina Alexander started designing bags for other companies 10 years ago after graduating from FIDM. She recounts that having no capital, she borrowed money from a friend from church and started to create the distinct handbags from her garage. She owned a kiosk at Hollywood and Vine and then opened another kiosk at The Grove. Now, her popular ‘photo handbags’ are sold at large chic retailers like Nordstrom’s, Macy’s, and Saks Inc. including other stores worldwide.

After a series of failed tries at motherhood from which she almost lost her life, Gina and her husband Richard adopted a now beautiful four-year-old Katelyn thru HOPE for Children Worldwide. Gina’s story of resiliency from failure to a now multi-million dollar business so inspired the author Jack Canfield so much that she is being featured in the infomercial world promotion of the author’s latest book entitled ‘The Law of Attraction.’

Recipients of the GAPP Humanitarian Award 2008 were handed out to (Black Eyed Peas) presented by Chilli of the TLC and was received in Apl’s behalf by Jeepney Music’s Nina Bautista accompanied by a video of their work among the poor in the Philippines. Other GAPP Humanitarian Award 2008 recipients were the ‘Search to Involve Pilipino Americans’ (SIPA) received by Mr. Benito Miranda & Mr. Joel Jacinto, World Emergency Relief (WER) received by WER CEO Dr. Joel McCollum and his wife Jan, and Hope World Worldwide received by HOPE Founder and Board of Director Patricia Gempel.

The fundraiser had ABS-CBN Global represented by Community Relations Manager Ms. Mitos Santisteban and Asian Journal represented by Publisher Cora Oriel as media partners and Production and PR flawlessly put together by TDRZ’s Mr. Ted Benito.

I spoke with Jun Velasco, one of the award presenters (accompanied by actress Kelly Hu) earlier in the evening. He is the Executive Director of Hope Worldwide Philippines and flew in to Los Angeles to attend the GAPP fundraiser. He had a lot of stories to tell about the children and the poor that needed the help. As he was telling me these, he was slowly unwrapping a very precious package. It was a painting done by the children in the Philippines. It showed a multicolored fish that is swimming among the signatures of the names of recipient children of the GAPP-Hope fundraiser. Jun told me that this piece of art is a gift and he hand carried it all the way from the Philippines. It was a gift for Gina Alexander from the children whose lives GAPP-Hope have touched.

I told Jun that the painting is beautiful indeed. From 7,000 miles away, in the middle of all the celebrities and performers this night, amid the glitz and the glamour, the painting reminded us that the need is still there. The poor and abandoned children are waiting for a loving hand. Tonight, GAPP-Hope showed the world once again that the children’s plea for assistance did not fall on deaf ears. Help is on its way, one bag, one child, and one fundraiser at a time. We are all reminded that it is indeed blessed to give as well as receive.