(UPDATED 7:29 pm with full story added to original 4:44 pm bulletin)
Story by Tracy Record
Photos/video by Patrick Sand
West Seattle Blog co-publishers
WestSide Baby‘s annual Benefit Tea raised $225,000 today, up from last year’s $175,000, courtesy of a recordsetting crowd – 550.
It wasn’t really about numbers – it was about helping hands and generous hearts.
This was the 12th tea, and the second year that the afternoon gala filled a ballroom at the Hilton Conference Center at Sea-Tac, where it moved after outgrowing previous digs.
The number of children helped by WS Baby, of course, is even more staggering – more than 22,000 – and executive director Nancy Woodland revealed a new goal – to “stretch” in the next three years to try to help even more, in an even-wider area.
“Safer, drier, happier children” is the goal for one of WS Baby’s basics, as “amazing ambassador” Mary Ellen Cunningham told the crowd toward the start. She maximized the theater-in-the-round stage, by wearing a sign on her back saying U + $ equals diapers:
(Among her other work and volunteering, Cunningham founded the nonprofit MegaWatt last decade – which in its semi-short life launched memorable examples of community-building, including West Seattle Community Garage Sale Day, which WSB now presents [May 11th this year!] and the Gathering of Neighbors, coming up May 4th.)
Then – WS Baby’s tireless executive director Woodland (here’s video of her full speech):
“Every time I get on this stage, I am in awe,” she began. “It is my favorite event of the year, and it means the world to WestSide Baby.”
She ticked off all the ways in which people help, including:
-A child who asked Santa for diapers, to donate
-A wedding with WS Baby donations as gifts
“When you had a big moment, you chose to support WestSide Baby … because you can, and because you care,” she said, adding that WS Baby’s assistance for those 22,000 children last year included more than diapers; also essentials such as cribs and car seats.
She said that after a challenging year, she and her family learned that not only does your community need you, but also .. “you need your community.” Woodland paid tribute to her mom for teaching her family compassion, to her dad for teaching her about taking risks – as well as giving or stretching – and to her aunt and uncle for teaching grace, after taking in 120 foster children over the years.
One big lesson – “just show up.” That, Woodland noted, is what WS Baby founder Donna Pierce did almost 13 years ago: “She made a choice” to help babies and children in need, at a time when she “had two little babies of her own at home.”
Woodland spoke of expanding WestSide Baby’s area of service into Central Seattle and areas such as Georgetown and SODO over the next three years – because there are 16,000 babies living in poverty right now, mostly in the city of Seattle, so “we know there is much to be done. … so we’re going to stretch a little, and reach a little …”
And then she revealed another lesson she learned in the past yea because of her dad – when she left the state to go be with him in his final days, people reached out to support her and her family to make sure they were cared for and everything ran smoothly in her absence. Tearfully, she offered thanks, and concluded: “I just want to end by saying that community is important , gratitude is paramount, and giving of yourself is critical … If my dad was here, he would say, Why not do more? Why not give more? Why not give all you can?”
Keynote speaker Dr. Cathy Grace, with the Children’s Defense Fund, calling the occasion “a day for celebration … and reflection.” With humor, she spoke about teas being events that could bring politicians “to their knees.” (Among the politicians in today’s crowd, on Seattle City Councilmember and mayoral candidate Tim Burgess, below with wife Joleen Burgess at left, Woodland at right:
Dr. Grace said this was an event where “the very best of you connected with the very best of someone else and a miracle occurred.”
Then she turned serious, first explaining her accent (from growing up in the family of a country-store owner “along a highway” in eastern Arkansas), which you’ll hear in our video of her speech:
Fundraising came in many ways, including the “Tombola” prize drawings – for which Woodland’s children Finn and McInnis helped.
A big prize tradition is to sell “baby cake” glass creations made by Avalon Glassworks, with the purchasers knowing that one of them contains a necklace worth $1,000 donated by Wyatt’s Jewelers (WSB sponsor), found by Dawn Bly:
A raise-the-paddle round filled the room with energy, applause, and cheering as individual donors pledged anywhere from $50 to $10,000. And Woodland revealed she had circulated an e-mail request for donations from those who couldn’t attend the tea – netting at least $1,700 just by the end of the event; she spoke of her phone jumping with donation notifications.
And the room was reminded that no one was too young to help, no act so simple, as they watched a testimonial video including a third-grader named Lillian who ended by saying, “I make blankets for WestSide Baby – what will YOU do?”
Along with the fundraising – and of course the tea and treats – the afternoon also represented giving from a multitude of sponsors, listed on WestSide Baby’s website.
Before it was all over, more numbers flowed, like more than 9,000 hours of time given by WestSide Baby volunteers last year. And there were reminders along the way that giving can be fun, like the hats worn by some of the women at Table 47:
But at the heart of it is serious business, which WS Baby and its staff and volunteers expect to do even more of next year, with your help.