ALCW keeps fundraising focus local
By SARA CLARKSON Contributor March 20, 2012
There’s nothing mysterious or evenly remotely esoteric about what is done with the money that the all-volunteer Assistance League of Chicagoland West raises. The same women who raise the money spend it and deliver it. The funds don’t go down the road to a different community or county or region or state.
ALCW focuses on getting winter coats and accessories to needy school kids, books to early readers and kitchen equipment to families making the transition out of homelessness, and it does it all right in far western Cook and near eastern DuPage counties.
“We have no paid employees,” said Diane Mzorek, ALCW’s vice president of philanthropy. “What we raise here stays here.”
The locally-focused mission and hands-on volunteer work attracts an impressive roster of women to ALCW. The 69 women who currently comprise the ALCW membership come from Hinsdale, Clarendon Hills, Burr Ridge, Willowbrook, Oak Brook, Western Springs and La Grange — the same places where the coats and hats, pots and pans, and books and crayons go.
“We have a huge vested interest in our neighbors,” Mzorek said.
Many ALCW members have previous volunteer experience with other volunteer organizations such as the Infant Welfare Society Auxiliary, Hinsdale Junior Women’s Club and Catholic Charities, not to mention churches and school parent-teacher organizations, but they find the grass-roots nature of ALCW especially rewarding.
“I think a lot of the women in our organization know how important it is to help someone else,” said Linda Legner, an ALCW member since 1999 who is currently co-chair of the group’s coat drive. “It’s an amazing group of willing, intelligent women.”
While ALCW is not a social service agency, she said, it can plug into real needs in the western suburbs.
ALCW is the local chapter of the national Assistance League, a nonprofit, community-oriented volunteer group founded in 1894 in Los Angeles. The ALCW sends in annual dues to the national chapter, but otherwise its funds cover some operating expenses and then go directly back to the community.
Every fall, more than 1,600 needy children get new winter coats, hats and gloves through Operation School Bell. Most of those children are students living in the same towns as the members. ALCW raises the money, buys the coats, sorts and organizes them by gender, size and color, and then delivers and distributes them and in many cases even fits the children.
“It’s hard work, but it’s fun,” said Trish Reider, vice president of membership.
It is what the members find so satisfying — actually seeing the smile on the face of a child with a new winter coat, one that fits well.
Operation New Start supplies new kitchen equipment to people transitioning from being homeless to having a home. Recently Mary Parsons, co-chair of Operation New Start, and a small group of other women scoured area stores for new kitchen necessities, purchasing everything from a microwave oven to cleaning supplies and measuring spoons. Each set of new kitchen equipment costs around $400, but its benefits far outweigh the price tag, allowing families to prepare less expensive and healthier meals.
Operation New Start currently works with eight different agencies. So far it has provided 38 new kitchens this fiscal year and expects to provide as many as 75.
Operation Early Reading is a program for preschool children that encourages reading at home by providing a backpack of early reading books in several languages, with Spanish being the second most popular after English followed by Urdu and Vietnamese.
The group’s largest fundraiser is the annual Books and Brunch fundraiser, which last year attracted more than 300 people. This year’s Books and Brunch is scheduled for Nov. 13 and two of the three authors already have been selected. They are local chef Paul Virant of Vie restaurant in Western Springs and historical fiction author Margaret George, who released Elizabeth I: A Novel last year.
Most of this effort emanates from an 1,800-square-foot office on Ogden Avenue in Hinsdale. There, bin after bin after bin is stacked high with coats, kitchen equipment and early reader backpacks and books. The massive undertaking of the coat drive taxes every inch of space in the fall. The group is currently discussing the need for a bigger space, in the hopes that it will not have to rely on temporary warehousing. Members would like to sort and box in their own place.
To find out more information about how you can get involved as either a member or a friend, friends being anyone who would like to volunteer a few hours of time on a project-by-project basis, visit www.chicagolandwest.assistanceleague.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (630) 321-2529.