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‘Women of Wisdom’ helps city nonprofits

VERGENNES — As its 10th birthday approaches on Aug. 10, the Main Street Vergennes nonprofit Sweet Charity and the group that supports it are enjoying their most productive year.
The charitable venture and other fundraising efforts of the members of Women of Wisdom, all area residents, have seen steadily increasing success in the past few years.
In 2014, as Women of Wisdom, known as WOW, began to hit its stride after the 2008 recession, the organization donated a total of $22,600, most of it from the sale of donated furniture and household items at Sweet Charity’s 141 Main Street resale shop.
The group also raises more through dues and another roughly $3,000 a year from an annual appeal for funds it uses to help local individuals and families in need, often through the Addison County Parent/Child Center in Middlebury or the John Graham Homeless Shelter in Vergennes.
In 2015 and 2016, those annual total donations jumped to $30,900 and $31,900, respectively, according to WOW member and bookkeeper Mary McKinnon, with $15,000 and $17,500 going in those years to WOW’s main nonprofit recipient, Hospice Volunteer Services.
And this year, McKinnon said, Sweet Charity’s receipts are running ahead of 2016 by about 7 percent — she projects 2017 year-end totals to be anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000 higher than this past year’s.
These numbers are sweet music to Liz Ryan of Waltham, a WOW and Sweet Charity founder who said the store and group had given away a total of about $210,000 since it was founded 10 years ago — not including the 2017 numbers.
Ryan said Sweet Charity’s story includes the many donors of goods the store can re-sell, and the many customers who come through its Ryan Block doors, not far from the Vergennes City Green.
“Sweet Charity has really become an integral part of the giving in that town. But we couldn’t do it without people giving us all these things,” Ryan said. “And we couldn’t do it without people coming in. It’s a beautiful circle that happens here.”
Sales are made out of Sweet Charity’s storefront, plus a basement space below for knick-knacks and a nearby rented garage for many larger furniture pieces. Ryan said the quantity — and quality — of donations to Sweet Charity are much appreciated.
“We keep being astounded by the shower of gifts that comes our way,” she said. “It’s all presents that people give us. It’s like Christmas. It’s amazing.”
Ryan also credits the members of the close-knit WOW group, all of whom pitch in for the cause in some way or another. For example, Ryan and Liz Markowski on Mondays pick up donations, while members Julie Basol and Meg Brash (the shop co-manager and also a part-time employee) on the same day run and redecorate the shop.
“Over those 10 years we really developed the framework to make it work, the organization. It really started with the relationship, what we had with one another,” she said. “Once we had the relationship and really trusted one another, we could really go forward and make a business together. We worked really hard on setting core values within this group, and how we were going to respect and support … one another.”
The other members are Lynn Donnelly, Mary Beth Hamilton, Joyce Hawes, Patty Paul, Jeannie Pelsue (the co-manager of Sweet Charity, and its only full-time employee) and Martha Redpath.
Ryan said the Sweet Charity’s success also depends on other supporters. Ryan and her husband, Tim, own the Ryan Block, and she notes Tim has been cooperative on the rent. Two other women’s families provide garage storage space, while the owners of Town & Country Self Storage donated a unit to store winter holiday items.
As well as Hospice Volunteer Services, Sweet Charity donations focus on women and families. Recipients since 2007 in order of gift size include WomenSafe (the group made a major gift in January), the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Vergennes, the Parent/Child Center, Vergennes Union High School groups, the Vergennes Food Shelf, the Vergennes Partnership, Helen Porter nursing home, fuel assistance programs, and the Bixby Library.
Ryan said when the original members of WOW sat around a table in 2007 they were motivated to find a way to help.
“The bottom line is the why, and the why is really this group is really committed to supporting Hospice Volunteer Service and women, children and families,” she said. “We just know there is such a need out there.”
WOW will celebrate Sweet Charity’s birthday.
“What we’re going to do is open the door to Sweet Charity on Aug. 10 and have beverages, food and music, and it’s all going to be spilling out in front of the Ryan Block,” Ryan said. “We’re going to bring it back to where it started and invite everybody to this party of gratitude.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at andyk@addisonindependent.com.

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