Around 175 people mingled Saturday evening at Jitters, sampling wines, noshing hors d’oeuvres and bidding generously to benefit Heart to Heart Pregnancy Resource Center.
The third annual Fruit of the Vine charitable event raised about $16,000 based on preliminary numbers, said Heart to Heart Executive Director Alycia Thomas.
The proceeds bring the nonprofit pregnancy center within reach of a longtime goal to purchase a sonogram machine and offer ultrasounds to mothers in need.
“For years I’ve gotten calls from girls asking if we could provide that, and I’ve had to refer them to the pregnancy resource centers in Anchorage or Wasilla,” Thomas said.
The ability to glimpse her developing baby can be very comforting and reassuring to a mother in a difficult situation, many of whom are uninsured or underinsured, explained Thomas.
The machine, which costs over $20,000 plus shipping, will be funded largely by the Eagle River council of the Knights of Columbus and a matching contribution from the national Knights of Columbus Supreme Council. However, the center must be renovated to meet building codes for medical equipment, and extensive and expensive training is required for the medical professional who will operate the machine. Fees for the legally mandated 60 hours of training total approximately $8,000.
Thomas credits the premiere wine-tasting benefit in 2015 with sparing the pregnancy resource center from shuttering due to funding shortages. A lull in regular private donations had strained the budget to such an extent that one month Thomas sacrificed her pay to cover the center’s rent.
For years Matt and Melissa Hickey, owners of Cozy Interiors, had organized yard sales during Bear Paw Festival to benefit Heart to Heart. The yard sales entailed grueling work for a minimal return, Melissa Hickey explained, so they conceived the wine-tasting event as a more promising fundraiser to sustain the pregnancy center. The debut event yielded upwards of $22,000.
“That fundraiser is what kept our doors open,” Thomas said. “That got us through the rough patch when donations were down.”
Since Thomas took over in 2011, the number of families seeking support from Heart to Heart has quadrupled, from around 40 families up to 160 a month recently.
Free pregnancy tests, maternity and baby clothes, diapers and formula, and peer counseling are some key provisions from Heart to Heart, as well as referrals to myriad community resources. Clients include moms who lost a job or spouse, foster parents who suddenly must care for a baby without time to prepare, and more often parents who moved here from warm climates and urgently need winter wardrobes for the entire family at an overwhelming cost.
The population currently served by Heart to Heart almost equals the turnout of supporters Saturday, who bought mystery bottles of wine for $20 each and raised bids on silent auction prizes ranging from a tattooing gift certificate to a pumpkin spice-themed basket. Live music, indulgent finger foods and an array of wines — such as the crowd-delighting Marilyn Merlot — plied the giving spirit, and many items sold for more than the listed value.
As Thomas observed, it’s mutually fruitful. “They just get to have a fun night and at the same time support the center so we can keep providing the support we do for the community.”