“You must do the things you think you cannot do.” - Eleanor Roosevelt
Eleanor Roosevelt was a strong woman, and she was one of the pioneers of Altrusa International. While her husband, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was governor of New York, she began one of the very early Altrusa clubs in Albany and worked tirelessly to do the things that many thought she, being a woman, could not do. That was 1927. FIfty-four years later, Altrusa of Gig Harbor started its work to support its community.
2017 is the national organization’s centennial, and Gig Harbor’s Altrusa has invited clubs from all over the Puget Sound to celebrate with a birthday party patterned after the “Pink Teas” of the 1917 era when women were finding their wings and their voting rights. That is just one of this year’s upcoming events.
When the city began talking about a community center around 2001 and the Boys & Girls Club began talking about building a new club here, it was Altrusa that suggested that they collaborate to meet the needs of the entire community from childhood through seniors. The newly-formed Altrusa of Gig Harbor Foundation even put their money where their suggestion was and pledged to raise $100,000 to equip a commercial-level kitchen in the new building with the condition that it be available for use by the entire community.
The new building opened in 2007, and its kitchen has been used for events by the entire community, including the club to feed the boys and girls who attend after-school and summer programs there. The funds that Altrusa raised to meet their $100,000 pledge were generated by 20 years of staging the annual Holiday Tour of Homes. They came from donations by sponsors, tickets sales and the sharing of 100 beautifully decorated Gig Harbor homes. In October of 2015, Altrusa made its final payment to the Boys & Girls Club, celebrated by burning the “mortgage.” They then began to look for their next challenge.
“What we discovered astounded us,” said current president Jan Hohman. “And it fit right into our work on behalf of our children. We learned that there was no summer lunch program to ensure that those children who qualified for lunch programs during the school year didn’t go hungry. What better way to put that kitchen to use?”
The members recognized that it was a big challenge, and one they probably could not meet by themselves. They resolved to begin the process and to let the efforts raise awareness. In February of 2016, Altrusa sponsored their first Empty Bowls event to raise funding and provide a limited summer lunch program through the Boys & Girls Club.
While one in four students in the Peninsula School District qualifies for food support, nearly one in two summer program attendees at the Boys & Girls Club qualifies. That’s twice the community’s average, said Hohman. At the end of last summer, close to 900 children had a lunch and two snacks daily during the 10-week summer program. Additional funds were dedicated to the Fish Food Bank for summer lunches.
This year’s Empty Bowls event will be held on Saturday, February 18, from 11am to 2pm at the Boys & Girls Club. Admission is gained by purchasing a bowl, the starting price of which is $10, and that allows the purchaser to choose from a variety of soups donated by local chefs and restaurants. Because last year’s event sold out of bowls and soup in less than two hours, they have doubled their goals for bowls, soups and, in the end, funds to feed our kids this summer.
None of it would happen without the generous participation of local ceramic artists, led by potter Barb Bourscheidt, a bevy of local chefs and restaurants, and sponsors like Peninsula Light, Umpqua Bank and DPI print.
In the meantime, Altrusa members have been actively pursuing other sources of funding, planning and managing a summer lunch program that serves a broader group. Talking to other organizations, institutions, and individuals, Altrusa is working to develop a coalition that will find ways to meet the need.
So who are Altrusa’s women?
Virginia Hardy, who in 1981 was a founding member of the local club and helped start its foundation, and Pat Jones who joined just a year later. They are just two of the women with a history of doing the things some believed they could not do. Both remain committed.
Mary Ann Paeth is a retired teacher. Margaret Ensley works for Peninsula Light. Pat Schmidt owns a printing business. Shirley Hansen has published her 10th book and writes an online newsletter on water quality, conservation, and demands. Jan Rinker is an attorney. Rose Jaeger manages a warehouse. Dyann Nauman is a retired systems manager. Former Governor Dixie Lee Ray and former Mayor Gretchen Wilbert have been active in the group. And there are more. What they all have in common is a love of the Gig Harbor community and their friendships with each other.
While they work hard on their projects and celebrate their successes, they also have fun. They get together to attend a concert, have a picnic or a party, and, of course, to plan for the next challenge. In addition to feeding kids’ tummies, they also work with the Peninsula Youth Orchestra to feed creativity.
Altrusa invites you to join them at their meetings which take place on the second Tuesday of the month at Harbor Place at 6pm. To reserve your dinner, call 253.514.8908.