19 March 2007
From the Daily Press:
"Junior League gets big gift for its 50th"
The Hampton Roads group celebrates its anniversary by raising $200,000 for the Peninsula Foodbank.
BY KAREN SPAULDING
March 15, 2007
The Junior League of Hampton Roads, a group of women who have been rallying behind issues that affect women, children and the community for the past 50 years, found the perfect project to help commemorate their half-century of service to the Peninsula.
They joined forces with the Peninsula Foodbank, rallied corporate sponsors, and brought Paula Deen, the queen of Southern cuisine, to the Hampton Roads Convention Center in February. And they netted more than $200,000 for the Foodbank's Capital Campaign.
"It seemed like the perfect fit," explained Sarah Hutchens, president of the local chapter. "Our goals and projects have always been centered around caring for women and children, and fighting hunger in our community seemed like the logical way to mark our 50th year.
"Somewhere in the brainstorming session last April, our ideas ran the gamut of possible entertainers to bring to the area for the event, and somehow Paula Deen, this huge hit on the Food Network, seemed like the answer."
The Junior League, established to support volunteerism in the community, always has tackled big projects and has the resume and rewards of service to prove it. A few projects that might sound familiar: they were co-founders of what is now the Virginia Living Museum, started the Hands on Art area for children at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center, published three award-winning cookbooks, and built houses with Habitat for Humanity.
Some of their new projects are Bright Beginnings, an after-school program with the YMCA, and Girls of Excellence, where members interact with Title 1 schools and help girls learn etiquette, cooking and sibling care. Another new project, K.I.T.S., assembles and delivers custom care packages to people in need, such as a bereavement kit for hospitals to give a child who has lost a loved one.
So rallying 200 of their troops to tackle Deen and her entourage was a walk in the park for this ultra-organized group of about 500 women. At least, they made it look that way.
At the big event, volunteers buzzed around, dressed all in black topped with aprons. If they didn't have walkie-talkies, then chances are they were getting instructions on how to serve food samples to 2,500 guests.
"We established a Web site to make it possible to volunteer online, and we had an amazing response from community volunteers, too ... a total of about 330, with 130 of those from the community - many from Northrop Grumman - and the rest Junior League members," Hutchens said.
There was Loretta Jones, the firecracker development director of the FoodBank, handling media contacts and a myriad of other details regarding Deen's visit to the area. Jane Susan Frank and Sidney Jordan co-chaired the Convention Center event for the Junior League, with many subcommittees functioning under them as well. Roughly 5,000 fans attended two sold-out shows, at $60 dollars a seat or $150 for a VIP ticket, proving the League was right on their Deen hunch. Busy vendors had a hunch, too, and Deen's cookbooks and specialty food items were some of the items going home at the end of the day.
"We had been working with Paula's agent to bring her here even before the announcement that she was entering a partnership with Smithfield Foods," Hutchens said. "With news of Deen partnering with Smithfield, we enlisted Smithfield's help to bring her to the event."
Deen travels across the country helping area Foodbanks raise funds, and Smithfield gives away hundreds of thousands of pounds of meat every year. Which is why they were the perfect match to partner with the Peninsula Foodbank and the Junior League.
Other major corporate sponsors were Max Media, which handled all the sound and visuals, and Ferguson Enterprises, which custom-built the kitchen and provided appliances in partnership with Hadco for the event. Many other community partners contributed to making the event a success.
The Foodbank, which has been feeding 17,000 people a week out of the same inadequate building for the past 20 years, is in the midst of a $7 million capital campaign. During the 2004-2005 fiscal year, the agency distributed more than 8 million pounds of food throughout its nine-jurisdiction service area on the Peninsula. That was an increase of 16 percent over the previous year, Frank said.
They partner with six Title 1 schools in their Food for Kids Program, and sponsor the Kids Caf-, providing after-school snacks to under-privileged school children in safe after-school care programs.
"The warehouse we occupy on Hosier Street is in deplorable condition, with simply not enough refrigerators, freezers, or equipment to handle the kind of demand we have," Frank explained. They were inundated with donated turkeys at Thanksgiving and had to hustle to find space to store them.
As a gift to the community, the Junior League donated all the proceeds from the event to the Foodbank.
Of course, one might normally expect to be on the receiving end of a gift when you have a 50th anniversary to celebrate. But in their own way, the Junior League is doing what they do best with their gift: giving it away to a good cause.