By Janis Fontaine
The women used to be bankers and teachers, nurses, software engineers and law enforcement officers. Now they’re retired.
But being retired doesn’t mean they have stopped helping their community. They are vibrant, accomplished and still making a difference. But now they’re using their hands instead of their heads.
These are the women of Holly House, whose Holiday Gift Shoppe at First Presbyterian Church in Delray Beach opened Oct. 2 to sell the fine crafts the women have been making all year. These sales — along with the group’s other annual fundraiser, a rummage sale held the second weekend in February — paid for the large building where the women gather two mornings a week to work on projects. They call it “our happy place.”
Inside the industrial-chic building, the women sew, knit, string beads for jewelry, refurbish furniture, price items for sale and organize donations. Bins full of ribbon, fabric and buttons are labeled and stacked neatly on shelves. A line of sewing machines stands like ready soldiers. Merchandise is everywhere.
Patty Years, 78, is working on a needlepoint project someone else started and never finished.
For more than 30 years, the women of First Presbyterian have been gathering this way, sharing the work, using their skills to raise money for their church and their missions. They hope the gift shop will still be going strong in 30 years.
Linda Prior, a former software engineer for IBM, has been a member of First Presbyterian for 15 years. “We come together because we enjoy each other’s company and we love crafting,” she said.
Gail Benson, a native of Vermont, is a Picasso with shells. A graduate of the New England Culinary Institute and a former caterer, Benson said she learned long ago to “only do the things that give me joy.”
Lucy Mureau, an experienced jewelry maker, leads a design team that makes original pieces and restores donated costume jewelry to its original beauty. Three women in their 90s sit together crocheting and making little angel-doll dresses. Marie Boss, Helen Antal and B.J. Mays have almost 300 years of experience doing handwork, skills learned at a time when, if you wanted something, you had to make it yourself.
“It’s the fellowship that holds us together, plus it gives us a mission, a goal,” Boss said.
Norie Gelfond, 66, admits she was bored in retirement. The former project manager needed some projects to manage and she found plenty of opportunities at Holly House.
And there’s a certain symmetry to the projects: Merrill Beveridge makes wreaths from wine corks donated by local restaurants.
Cindy Pemberton, the group’s chairman this year, closes the work session with a business meeting. Holly House is solvent, with money in the bank. Last year, the group raised enough money to upgrade the sound system at the church.
Along with the proceeds from the rummage sale, Holly House supported almost a dozen local charities, including the Caridad Center, CROS Ministries, Dress for Success, Faith Farm, Family Promise, the Florida Breast Cancer Foundation, Ginger’s Closet and the Vietnam Vets. Holly House also helps children and family groups and animal charities.
But these weekly gatherings provide more than just products. When a member was ill, the other members brought her food every day. Another member who needed a daily ride to radiation treatments found women lined up to be her chauffeur.
No one had to ask. The community simply rallied around them, because that’s what you do.
Janis Fontaine writes about people of faith, their congregations, causes and events. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.