Annual Handbags for Hospice event draws a sold out crowd of more than 850 guests and raises thousands for VON Sakura House

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It was another banner year for Handbags for Hospice, filling the Oxford Auditorium to the brim with glitz, glamour, and a whole lot of purses.

Thousands were raised at the sold out event, a fundraiser for VON Sakura House Hospice.

Organizers said the event was on track to raise $120,000. The final tally will be announced this week.

“The fact that we can raise a significant amount of funding for the hospice while offering such a fun night out for our guests is really satisfying,” said Kyra McNamara, fund coordinator for VON Oxford.

There was plenty to keep more than 850 guests occupied, including a silent auction, candy bar and dessert buffet, not to mention hundreds of purses in all styles and sizes.

An army of nearly 100 volunteers helped the night run smoothly.

“It’s overwhelming, the amount of support,” said Valerie Alyea, a volunteer at the event.

“The generosity of the community is just unbelievable,” added Angela Guernsey.

Alyea and Guernsey were two of the volunteers selling Lug bags. Each of the 400 bags also gave the buyer a chance to win prizes – everything from Leafs tickets to a pair of diamond earrings.

And the LUG bags were just the tip of the iceberg.

One of the most popular items for sale each year is the Firefighters dinner.

Over the past six years, the Woodstock Professional Firefighters Association has raised $25,000 as a result of putting themselves up for auction at the event.

The dinner party elicited a huge donation again this year, drawing in $3,375 from not one, but two bidders.

“The Auctionista,” Guelph-based Linda Leja, struck that double deal at the last minute to ensure two top bidders could both enjoy a Firefighters dinner.

“It’s great fun, great friends, and we’ll have a lot of fun,” said Deb McGuire, one of the winners.

McGuire and a group of friends also had the highest bid for the dinner last year, and they’re excited for round two.

Though the event provides a glitzy girls night out, many guests are also there to give back to an organization that has provided for them in times of great need.

“Personally we’ve experienced Sakura House, and we’re grateful for having such a wonderful facility in our community,” said Nelia Hunt, the other recipient of the highly sought after firefighter prize.

“It’s a great donation for a great cause,” she added.

And Hunt was far from the only one with a personal connection to Sakura House.

“In the six years that we’ve run this event, many women in this room have become more than just our guests, more than just our supporters. You’ve walked the end of life journey with a loved one at VON Sakura House,” McNamara told the crowd during her speech.

Handbags for Hospice consistently raises about one-fifth of the annual operating budget that VON Oxford must fundraise for Sakura House.

Another key focus for this year’s event was the launch of a child bereavement program.

A local father who had pushed for child and youth supports shared his story with guests. After losing his wife to cancer, John Kaiser said he worried about how to help his two sons.

“Not only did the boys have to face the changes that were about to come, they had to learn how to process the new feelings of loss, frustration, anger, and the ‘why me?’ feeling of life being unfair to them. Then there’s the fear that goes with it,” he said.

“Adding to my sons’ challenges were my feelings of loss and helplessness. I was trying to process this loss and figure out how to become the father they needed me to be,” Kaiser added.

Several speakers implored the crowd to donate what they could to get the new program off the ground.

A goal of $25,000 was set and Leja, the Auctionista, vowed to try and make that money in less than 15 minutes.

Donations kicked off at $500, and fifteen people donated $250. More than 50 offered $100 donations.

The total raised for the child bereavement supports will also be announced in the coming days.

“It’s really awe-inspiring to see what this group of people can accomplish together," McNamara said.

"On the surface, it just looks like a fun night, but truly there is a strong connection between our guests and the cause."

megan.stacey@sunmedia.ca 

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