Local Organization Seeks to Help Women in Need

People mingle over food in Shirley Drew’s home for a SEK Women Helping Women fundraiser on Saturday.¬†Photos by Jeremy Johnson.

Around 20 women gathered at the home of Shirley Drew this Saturday to hear what Southeast Kansas Women Helping Women is all about.

As Sarah Chenoweth, the organization’s secretary, explained in her presentation to the group, SEK Women Helping Women seeks to help women primarily because they are disproportionately affected by poverty. This need is especially great in Southeast Kansas where 22% of people and 28% of children live at or under the federal poverty line, which is $11,000 a year for an individual and $20,000 for a family of three. The organization aims to assist women in crisis who have no where else to turn. But, as she also pointed out, this help often extends to the families of the women receiving help.
The help they offer comes in grants of up to $500 available once a year per person. Individuals apply for the grants through local agencies–Wesley House, Safehouse Women’s Shelter, Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas, and Mother to Mother Ministries–and then, if the grant is awarded, the money is sent to the vendor responsible for rendering the services specified in the application.

Women Helping Women is intended to be a last resort–that is, they help women with issues that cannot be addressed by other services. So someone in need of help with things like food, medical care, or utility bills would need to first seek help through Wesley House, Community Health Center of SEK, or Catholic Charities. Once all other available opportunities for assistance have been exhausted–or where none exist–Women Helping Women is able to offer support.

Sarah Chenoweth presents statistics on women in poverty at Saturday’s SEK Women Helping Women house party.
According to Chenoweth, as of last October, SEK Women Helping Women has raised $16,000 from individual donors and support from the Community Foundation of Southeast Kansas’s General Fund and Future Fund. These funds have been used to provide $8,000 in grants to 27 women and their families since starting two years ago. And in January 2016 alone, they have approved 5 more grants. These have gone to women facing a variety of situations: one was living in a trailer on $700 a month and unable to get the money to turn her water back on; one had diabetes but no working refrigerator to store her medication in; another needed to have her birth certificate updated so she could get identification in order to continue cashing her paychecks.
The goal of Saturday’s fundraiser was not only to solicit donations, but also to recruit Fairy Godmothers, or women who were willing to commit to contributing $500, the cost of one grant. The donation could be made all at once, or spread out in monthly payments over two years. At the gathering, Celia Patterson, Maeve Cummings, and Reta Nicholson joined the 18 others recognized as ¬†Fairy Godmothers.
The other aim of the house party was to get people to sign up to host similar events. Sue Horner, co-president of SEK Women Helping Women, said that since the organization hosted a similar house party for a kick-off event and had a lot of success with it, so they decided to keep the model as their primary means of fundraising.
“We raised around $5,000-$6,000 that way,” Horner said. “It was pretty easy to do and talk people into doing a party. We’re very grateful for the generosity of our community.”
Drew, who had been asked to host the gathering by another Women Helping Women member, agreed at the ease of doing the event, since members of Women Helping Women had brought all of the food and beverages, and she had only needed to offer her home and invite some friends. But she said what had really compelled her is that she had seen the need that the organization is trying to address.
“What made me want to get involved is I’ve seen these women they’re helping around town,” Drew said. “This is an opportunity to put your money where your mouth is.”
Anyone interested in contributing to or receiving help from SEK Women Helping Women can visit their Facebook page and Web site. Donations can be sent to:
Fairy Godmothers
Community Foundation of Southeast Kansas
P.O. Box 1448
Pittsburg, KS 66762