Danville Express

Living - May 4, 2007

Fun and fashion raise money for others

Alamo Women's Club - a chance to socialize, hear speakers and do some good

by Natalie O'Neill

When a team of movers stumbled upon a dusty trunk full of unworn dresses from the 1920s, they had no idea the clothes would end up in Alamo someday.

The men sifted through classy cream-colored evening gowns and free flowing flapper dresses - ideal for sneaking a drink at a speakeasy - both almost untouched.

And then one mover picked up the phone.

"We got a call that they had encountered a trunk full of clothing from the 1920s that had never been worn. We guessed the woman they belonged to had died and the family didn't want to deal with it," explained the runway announcer at the Alamo Women's Club fashion show.

Models from "The Goodwill Bags" shimmied across a makeshift runway last week in Alamo, showcasing authentic and highly stylish retro clothing from 1850-1970, some of which was found in that trunk of treasures.

The event raised more than $1,500 for Hospice, Volunteer Emergency Services Team in Action (Vestia) and Family Stress Center.

"A lot of people don't think families in affluent areas are in stress and need. But there are some kids who don't have a roof over their heads," said Nancy Combs, who organized the event with Lauren Hash, both members of the Alamo Women's Club.

When children are taken from parents that have been deemed unfit, they are removed from their home immediately, without a chance to go back and get their belongings, Hash said.

"We give them backpacks with clean underwear, a teddy bear - something just for them," she said.

Part of the money raised also goes to hygiene kits that include shampoo, soap and razors to help homeless parents clean up, and gain a better chance at landing a job.

"Ten dollars is a lot to someone who has nothing," said Vicki Crockett, who is in charge of philanthropy for the club.

On the runway, models boasted bright angelic sundresses with umbrellas meant for shading pale aristocratic faces.

They trotted along in long fur and velvet coats that hung in cuts reminiscent of Cruella De Ville's notorious overcoat - indulgently long and cartoon-like.

Clad in flowing nightgowns and carrying candleholders from the turn of the century, some models hammed it up for a laugh.

"I had seen them before and I thought they were hilarious," Hash said.

"The clothes were just darling," Crockett added.

With clothes - and charity - on the mind, Alamo women discussed both fashion and philanthropy over a retro-themed lunch.

Hash noted that during the first half of the 20th century, most women only had two dresses: one for around the house and one for going out.

Crockett added that if it were the same today, and women bought only one-tenth as many clothes as they do now, they would have more money to give to people in need.

In Contra Costa, spring is one of the most important times to do good.

At shelters in the county, the homeless are sometimes pushed out when the weather warms up, Crockett explained. This one of the roughest times for homeless families.

In the winter months, especially around the holidays, people feel inspired to give. But in the springtime charities are overlooked and have to penny-pinch, she said.

"What about the other 11 months? Everyone forgets to give in April," she said.

With this in mind, the Alamo Women's Club decided to put together the fashion show - a fun seasonal event.

As models showcased the clothes, the runway announcer put the styles in their historical context. For example, she pointed out that one dress that was priced at $2,900 before the Great Depression never sold.

After the Depression, she explained, fashionistas began to wear expensive bracelets outside of their gloves to flaunt that they still had money and status. In the Roaring '20s, before that, she said most women with money had two velvet coats, one short and one long.

Proceeds from the fashion show will also go the Corbin House, a rehabilitation center that helps mothers struggling with drug abuse to recover and become reacquainted with their children.

"If you were a mom at Corbin and you wanted to take your kids to the zoo, that money makes all the difference," Crockett said.

Social workers take these mothers clothes shopping at inexpensive stores like Target with the donations, to help them pick out clothes for job interviews. It helps them pay for outings with their kids.

The other two groups they help are Vestia and Hospice of the East Bay. Vestia provides services and goods to low-income and underprivileged families, foster children and adults. Hospice provides compassionate end-of-life healthcare and also helps families deal with grief.

All of the money goes straight to these government-sponsored charities and is in the hands of the people who need it within about a week, Crockett explained.

The event wrapped up with a drawing that gave away $100 baskets with treats donated from local businesses like Yellow Wood Coffee & Tea, Trader Joe's and Amber Bistro.

The women's club paid $500 to the models and performers of "Goodwill Bags" to put on the show, and 95 percent of that also goes to charity.

Using the contents of that dusty old chest of dresses, Alamo women were able to take one family's misfortune and use it to help future families in stress and grief.

The next event the Alamo Women's Club will hold is its Scholarship Tea, to honor three students they have selected to receive $500 scholarships. It will be held at noon, Wednesday, May 23, at the Alamo Woman's Club.

What a club


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