Danville Express

Column - March 16, 2007

Diablo Views: Crab and camaraderie for a good cause

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

What's the best thing about a crab feed? No, not the crab. The camaraderie. Plus the fact that the money usually benefits a worthy organization.

Recently I was one of more than 400 people at a crab feed held in the spacious gym at St. Isidore's Church in Danville, as a guest of my friends Judy and Dennis Steiner. His employer, Wilson and Kratzer Chapel of San Ramon Valley, had bought a table to help out the good cause.

The fundraiser benefited Mary's House, located in San Pablo, which provides a home for pregnant women in crisis, who would otherwise be homeless. It was opened by the Divine Mercy Eucharistic Society in an old convent building in San Pablo with 12 bedrooms. The first mother-to-be came to the home nine months pregnant, and the first baby was born Nov. 29, 2002.

Women are allowed to stay six months after the baby is born, which makes for a house sometimes full of babies. While there, the women work on their high school graduation equivalency diploma, or on some kind of certification.

"Whatever it takes for them to become self-sufficient," said program director Analyn Garcia.

They have a network of help for the women, including counseling, food banks, public health, information about housing and employment, and training in writing resumes, interviewing and budgeting.

In 2005, Mary's House began to take in women who are not pregnant, "just" homeless, said Garcia. They did not want to have the rooms unoccupied while waiting for a pregnant woman in need.

"Women were knocking on our door and wanted to come in," said Garcia. "They were also women in crisis. We said it makes sense, we don't always have a full house."

The women must have been clean and sober for at least a year.

"We know what our capabilities are," said Garcia.

Garcia said a large part of her job is fundraising. For the last three years, she was able to obtain grants but that avenue is tightening up. For one thing, she lost her administrative staff due to lack of funds. And she has also found that she is sometimes passed over for grants because Mary's House can only help 10 women at a time. So every year they hold a big fundraiser.

I asked why they didn't hold the fundraiser closer to Mary's House, and she told me the truth is that people in affluent communities have more to give. And, she said, the folks from around Danville, San Ramon and Pleasanton who attended after hearing about it at their Catholic churches gave generously.

Local merchants gave, too. There were long tables of donations for a silent auction, from sports memorabilia, to tickets to Role Players and Victoria's Hair on Stage performances, to stunning jewelry, to Southwest Airlines tickets. Drawing tickets were sold for a special prize, a pilgrimage to the Marian Shrines of Europe from Oct. 8-22 being sponsored by the Divine Mercy Eucharistic Society.

Garcia said last year's crab feed in Richmond only drew 100 while this year's brought about 425, the most ever, plus another 40 people were on a waiting list. They are hoping to show a profit of at least $18,000, although Lou Santero, chairman of the event, was still finalizing the numbers at press time. Garcia said the Knights of Columbus Council No. 4060 who sponsor Mary's House were also a huge help.

The large numbers were a challenge but the volunteers coped with the crowds and made a fun evening. First of all, there was plenty of crab. Also, each table had an enthusiastic teen server, who made sure to keep the crab coming, as well as pasta and rolls. Another good thing about this crab feed was that we had the option of eating steak. I like crab but extracting it is too much work. I opted for steak and thought it was cooked perfectly (pink in the middle) although Garcia tells me some folks wanted it well done. I wasn't about to be fussy after requesting steak at a crab feed fundraiser for 400-plus. And I still was able to enjoy the company of the crab eaters while admiring their dexterity as they diligently tore apart the claws and dug out the little bits of the delicacy.

Want to help?

Mary's House, telephone (510) 236-0383, is looking for volunteers in these areas:

* Development committee

* Volunteer coordinators

* Thrift store

* Help with newsletter

* Grant writing

* Info systems

* Maintenance of chapel

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