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Holiday shopping for a cause: ISU Women’s Club hosts annual Holiday Fair fundraiser

Madison Shumway

Life Editor

Each year for nearly a half-century, shoppers have flocked to an annual holiday fair hosted by the ISU Women’s Club to purchase one-of-a-kind gifts and partake in homemade goodies.

From the handmade wares offered by local artisans, to the carefully crafted quilts raffled every year, to the enchilada lunch cooked from the same recipe, the charm of the ISU Women’s Club Holiday Fair relies on its adherence to tradition.

At the fair, underlying the cozy nostalgia of handcrafted goods and a warm meal, is a spirit of goodwill. The Holiday Fair functions as a fundraiser, all profits contributing to a scholarship fund that distributes three $3,000 awards each year.

“With every one of those gifts, you get some love,” said Susanne Forrest, an academic advisor at ISU and publicity chair for the Women’s Club. “And you can contribute to scholarships with your purchase. Usually, you contribute to someone’s pocketbook.”

This year’s Holiday Fair takes place on Friday, Nov. 9 and Saturday, Nov. 10 in the PSUB Ballroom. From 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, shoppers can browse wares from dozens of artists and try their luck at winning an auction or raffle.

A basket auction will take place Friday, with prize baskets holding anything from children’s books to pet supplies up for grabs. The baskets are compiled and donated to the Women’s Club by various university departments and groups.

The fair also features a raffle drawing with art pieces, event tickets and free meals available to take home. For years, the crown jewel of the Holiday Fair raffle has been a handmade quilt, with this year’s collage of red and blue donated by club supported Peggy Awes.

“Part of the draw is …  customers who are looking for that very unique gift,” said Holiday Fair chair and former Women’s Club president, Jody Finnegan. “They can find that very unique gift at the Holiday Fair because of the variety of vendors that we have and the fact that it is homemade stuff, a lot of one-of-a-kind stuff.”

Members of the Women’s Club will man several booths at the fair. One is Heartfelt Creations, which offers home-baked desserts and candies as well as art pieces and crafts made by members.

The Women’s Club also organizes an Upscale Resale booth each year, which curates a selection of gently used, donated items like books, household decor, knick-knacks and toys for low prices.

At this year’s fair, 41 local and regional artisans will participate in the fair, selling dolls, pens, ornaments, photography, clothing and art pieces made by hand. All live in the area or have ties to ISU.

“Those are handmade things by someone that you can get to know,” Forrest said. “It’s not something that’s cranked out in some factory somewhere for a dollar and now we charge ten for it. You really get handmade things, and people put their heart blood into those things.”

The club hosts an enchilada lunch on Friday at 11 a.m., serving until food runs out. The lunch is a longtime Holiday Fair tradition, its enchilada recipe supplied by former member Angela Lucky.

Chartwells now lends a hand, making the enchiladas from Lucky’s original recipe. This year’s lunch is sponsored by ISU Credit Union, so every dollar earned will benefit the club’s scholarship fund.

The Women’s Club awards three scholarships every spring: one for a junior woman, one for a College of Technology student and one for the child of an ISU employee. The awards are $3,000 and require financial need and an essay about the applicant’s background and goals.

Recipients vary in their experiences, Finnegan said. Some are traditional students, some non-traditional. But all attend the Women’s Club’s annual scholarship brunch in the spring and meet club members.

“Each year, they’re invited to come talk about themselves and let us know how the scholarship helped them,” Finnegan said. “Usually, that’s a tear-jerker for me. It’s very emotional, and it’s just a really neat thing to see how people have benefited from the scholarship and all our hard work over the years.”

The scholarship brunch and Holiday Fair represent the Women’s Club’s two major events. The club offers other social events for members, including ladies’ night outs at Westside Players and a variety of interest groups like book clubs, sewing groups, fitness gatherings and bridge clubs, and is always seeking new members.

The club has a long history, boasting the title of ISU’s longest continuously-running club. It began in 1923 as the Faculty Wives Club, gathering the spouses of ISU employees to organize social events for the university.

The Women’s Club has evolved over time, drawing an increasing number of employee members. In the 1970s, the club started a loan fund to help local women afford school and eventually created a scholarship endowment now worth over $140,000.

While the club welcomes monetary donations, the Holiday Fair is the club’s largest contributor to its scholarship fund. It provides an opportunity for the public to support student scholarships, no matter how small the contribution, Forrest said.

“We have something for really any pocketbook,” she said. “If you have only 50 cents, and you buy a brownie from us, you have contributed to someone’s scholarship.”

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