While a quartet from the D.C. Youth Orchestra played chamber music, members of the Links Inc., a black women's service organization, sipped champagne, munched on strawberries and finger sandwiches and greeted recipients of $15,000 in social service grants.

The awards were made last week at the home of John and Hazel O'Leary of Unicorn Lane NW.

The money was raised at a $30-a-ticket benefit fashion show at Neiman-Marcus in Chevy Chase on April 5. Neiman-Marcus and Urlanger Beer sponsored the benefit, said Mercedes Palmer, president of the D.C. chapter. This was the Links' second benefit fashion show at Neiman-Marcus to raise money for charities.

The civic fundraising project was started by Links member Dolly Assevero.

"I initiated fundraising at Neiman-Marcus when I was prsident of the organization" two years ago, Assevero said, "and Mercedes Palmer, our current president, followed by continuing the fundraising program this year. I hope we can continue this project again next year."

Palmer presented cash awards of $5,000 to Howard University Cancer Research Center; $3,575 to the Thomas-Young Scholarship Fund set up by the Links in honor of their founders, Benice Thomas and Ruth Young; and $1,425 to the D.C. State Student Incentive Grant Program, which will be matched by the federal government and awarded to needy students.

In addition, the Capital Children's Museum, Deaf Pride Inc. and Capital Ballet each received $1,000 contributions; the African-American Institute, which assists needy African students in the District, received $300; and the Northwest Settlement House received $500.

Links Inc. awards a scholarship each year to an outstanding student in the arts. This year's recipient was Pamela Pearson, valedictorian of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, who received a $500 college scholarship. She will attend Denison University in Granville, Ohio.

Because organizations are losing federal social services aid, the D.C. chapter has received more requests for financial assistance this year than ever before, Assevero said.

"Everyone wants to know if we can help them because of the cuts, but of course we can't help everyone," Assevero said. "We knew in advance who we were going to give funds to before we had the fundraiser. We knew we would give a major portion to the Howard Cancer Research Center, and some to the Capital Ballet, an aspiring youth in the arts and others."