Not-For-Profit Day

Vincent Bradshaw

Starry-eyed children dragged their parents to meet the slender woman dressed in a green, red, orange, white and bright blue medieval court jester costume, standing in the Evanston Farmers’ Market.

The children eagerly grabbed the brightly colored balloons from her hands while parents stood beside them and read her brochures.

Tiffany Woods of The Woman’s Club of Evanston said she wore the eye-catching ensemble to attract the market’s young visitors. Her outfit promoted the group’s Fairy Tale Trail, a Halloween-themed funhouse for children. It also showed the members’ willingness to enjoy themselves while working, which she said is crucial a part of the club.

“It’s an opportunity for women in the community to get together and have fun,” she said. “We know how to have a good time.”

The family fun was part of the 12th Annual Not-For-Profit Day at the Farmers’ Market, held Saturday morning at the intersection of University and Oak avenues. Residents who visited the Farmers’ Market for fruits and vegetables also discovered ways to give back to the community.

Volunteers from 45 community-based non-profits set up booths and passed out club information from 8 a.m. to noon. It is the only day when Evanston’s community service groups converge at one specific location.

The market’s 4,000 visitors weaved their way through the small maze of organizations, picking up information sheets and talking to organization members. Several groups offered visitors the chance to sign up for charity projects, and all educated the public on what their club does for the city.

“Anybody who’s interested in volunteering would have a hey-day here,” Woods said.

Organizations specialized in services such as feeding senior citizens, helping victims cope with HIV and teaching those with learning disabilities.

Jean Speyer-Scruggs, the city’s administrative secretary and coordinator for the Evanston Farmers’ Market, attended the market to assure the day ran smoothly. She emphasized the importance of educating the public on the different service organizations.

“To go by their table and pick up their information gives residents the opportunity to learn what these organizations are really about,” she said.

Just a few booths down from Woods in her medieval garb, Rainbow Animal Assisted Therapy drew crowds with their two dogs, Kate and Oz.

Kate, a border collie, works with Evanston Hospital stroke patients. Oz, a flat-coated retriever, was once a stray dog roaming around the city. He’s now off the streets and helping patients at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago smile again.

“We’ve had a busy booth because everyone wants to come meet the dogs,” said Julia Weertman, dog handler.

The volunteers use animals to help terminally or temporarily ill patients recover emotionally. The animals keep the patients company.

“It’s very satisfying when you hear that it works,” volunteer Suzanne Richter said. “The human-animal bond is very significant.”

The groups’ presence surprised some customers because although officials announced Not-For-Profit Day in city e-mails, most of the publicity spread via word-of-mouth. Social worker Carolyn Read said she was unaware of the day’s festivities. She expected to breeze through the food stands quickly. But she stayed a few extra minutes to explore the non-profit fair where stumbled across the Parent Circle, a group she wants to join.

Parent Circle members baby-sit for each other, attend educational workshops together and participate in playgroups. As a new mother, Read said she was happy to learn of the Parent Circle, which will benefit her infant child.

“It’s interesting to see what’s out here,” Read said. “I’ve lived here for five years, and I didn’t know this existed. Now I can go home and tell my friends.”

Not-For-Profit Day usually brings in a handful of new volunteers. And more people than normal signed up to join the Parent Circle this year said Andrea Versenyi, Parent Circle volunteer.

“The crowd was out today, ” she said.

Farmers and gardeners also reported success stories. They shared stories and exchanged smiles with Evanston residents from 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. The market will celebrate its 30th year in the community until Nov. 5.

Gardener Barb Engelsen sold wreaths, dried flowers and oriental lilies in her booths beside fellow farmers. It was a hard year for Engelsen, who said the dry summer weather fried all the annuals on her Rockford, Ill., farm. But she said she was happy to make it to the market.

“We love to interact with the community,” Engelsen said.

By 10:30 a.m. Michelle Terry, director of service learning at North Shore Country Day School, completed some grocery shopping and made her way through most of the booths. Her plastic bag was filled with the multicolored pamphlets she needed to get her children and students into volunteer projects.

Terry’s lesson plans ensure her students get some hands-on experience.

She set her eyes on the Meals At Home organization. The group provides lunch and dinner delivery to senior citizens and disabled people six days a week. Member Paula Schaffer said table decorations are needed, and Terry said perhaps her students could assist in making them.

Terry’s networking efforts allowed her to met other people in the community, which she says is a plus for the fair.

“I love meeting new people,” Terry said. “When you can meet people and get into the passions that people have – you really get to know them on a different level.”

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