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Help for the holidays

Rotaract members don't play lip service to serving their community, they raise tens of thousands of dollars a year and this holiday season, it will put 200 dinners on 200 tables for families in need.

Posted: December 11, 2011 - 12:01am  |  Updated: December 11, 2011 - 12:12am
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At the Wednesday Rotaract meeting, Ariel Rolfe, president of the local club, works on her stocking while to her left, Angela Gowdy, and across the table, Amanda Spickler begin work on their own. Each year Rotaract has a different holiday item to auction to raise funds for their Holiday Dinner Project.  Melissa Griffiths
Melissa Griffiths
At the Wednesday Rotaract meeting, Ariel Rolfe, president of the local club, works on her stocking while to her left, Angela Gowdy, and across the table, Amanda Spickler begin work on their own. Each year Rotaract has a different holiday item to auction to raise funds for their Holiday Dinner Project.

Ariel Rolfe removed from her tote a heaping pile of craft supplies and hot cocoa packets to prepare for Wednesday’s Capital City Rotaract meeting at the UAS Bill Ray Center downtown. She is the president of the club and has the benefit of having a very involved vice president, Angela Gowdy, always at ready to help with Rotaract events. Rotaract, a relatively young organization both in the length of time it has been active in Juneau and age demographic, has not let its youth be a hindrance. The organization, which has been around since September of 2007, has raised tens of thousands of dollars for worthy causes in those years, all while having a good time.

The craft supplies Rolfe laid on the table were to become stockings for auction at Rotary meetings so the group could raise money for its longest running project, which puts meals on the table for families in need during the winter holidays. Though the project predates Capital City Rotaract, having been organized previously by Rachael McLeod, the group is prepping to take full ownership of the project.

“She still coaches us,” explained Rolfe, “but she’s getting us ready to take over completely next year.”

For the past four years, Rotaract has been contributing their energy and organization to make the project, once called “The Christmas Box Project” but now “The Holiday Dinner Project” to better reflect its purpose in the community, a success.

Rotaract, with the help of Juneau’s three Rotary clubs and Rachael McLeod’s guidance, has raised money, collected Super Bear Price Smashers, earned from shopping at the Valley supermarket, and put together the boxes of food for distribution to families. Letters are mailed, events are attended and held, and in this case, stockings are made and decorated for auction to raise the funds.

The group puts together 200 boxes each year. Member hand-wrap boxes, donated by Western Auto Marine, with holiday themed wrapping paper, purchase the food items from Super Bear, with the use of unlimited Price Smashers for the project, and Food Services of America. This year, the cost is appoximately $8,600 and Rolfe and Gowdy anticipate the Price Smashers could account to nearly $2000 off that number.

The boxes, according to Spickler, with agreement from other members, are wrapped in decorative paper so it is clear that the dinners are a gift. The group is big on giving to the community and they feel they get a lot from the community as well.

On average, 10 members might be in attendance on a normal meeting day, though hundreds show up to Rotaract events like the Oktoberfest for Breasts, the annual chili feed or Adult Prom.

The assembly of the holiday dinner boxes is another crowd drawing event for the group.

“Rotaractors, Rotarians, friends and family all come to help put the boxes together,” said Rolfe.

Former Rotaract co-president Amanda Spickler was one of the members present who had actually gotten a chance to participate in one of the assembly nights, though, for Rolfe and Gowdy, this was not for lack of trying.

“It’s so exciting, you’re sweating and it’s fun, you’re in the assembly line,” says Spickler.

She laughed a little, explaining it sounds weird, but it is really a good time for all.

“Everyone looks forward to it,” she offered. “And it’s competitive, but in a feel-good way.”

The sweating and the feeling good are accurate. Each year the volunteers get together at a Northland Services warehouse with all the boxes of food and the wrapped holiday dinner boxes and race around in a wild assembly line. Each year it seems the volunteers beat a record. A few years ago the 200 boxes were filled in 23 minutes and last year it took only 15. Sometimes, as Rolfe and Gowdy explained, people show up but the work is already done.

Rotaractors, who often volunteer at Rotary events, added it was fun to have an event to invite the Rotarians to volunteer.

Though Rotaract puts in a lot of time and energy to put the boxes together, they gladly deliver the dinners to local agencies to distribute to families in need. The agencies and organizations that receive and donate the dinners are Catholic Community Services, The Glory Hole, Salvation Army and St. Vincent De Paul’s.

If sharing some holiday cheer with Rotaract sounds like fun, they invite people age 18 to 30 to consider joining the organization, which is focused on community service as well as some social networking and occasional opportunities for professional development. They will be hosting an ugly sweater holiday party Dec. 17 — for more details send an e-mail or find them on facebook, and they invite volunteers of all ages to help with the assembly of the holiday dinner boxes at Northland Services Dec. 21 at 6 p.m., though it is recommended that one check in with Rotaract members to be sure of the time. It is also recommended that one show up on time or risk showing up after the record breaking assembly line is complete and there’s nothing left to do but sweep.

Capital City Rotaract meets Wednesdays at 6 p.m. at the UAS Bill Ray Center, located next to Alaska Laundry. To learn more about Rotaract, attend a meeting or e-mail juneaurotaractors@gmail.com or finding them on Facebook. Rotaract, a non-profit organization, accepts donations of money or Price Smashers year round and donations can be sent to PO Box 34361, Juneau, AK 99803.

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