Two weeks ago, two events were held in separate parts of Alexandria. Mary Ann Gilleece hosted the "Hussies" Party at her home in Mount Vernon and Jane Cahill welcomed guests to her store, "The Winery."
Both were fun events, yet they both had a mission — a mission that is near and dear to the hearts of the providers, yet, one that came about quite unexpectedly.
In Gilleece's case, her traditional party began 16 years ago when she invited a few women over for the evening. She invited women who didn't know each other and paired them off; they had to come dressed in something that linked them together, even though they had never met.
"It started because I've always been interested in women getting together and sharing their strengths," said Gilleece.
The next year, Bernie DiNicola asked Gilleece if his sister could bring some of the clothes she sold at her second-hand clothing store in Washington, D.C. The women that year had fun trying on black-tie and work clothes.
And so the idea of having vendors and creating a "Holiday Marketplace" was born. Every year after that, Gilleece invited a few more vendors to her home. It not only gave women a chance to shop in a relaxed setting, but it also an ice-breaker for women who didn't know each other.
Gilleece's invitation says, "We will eat together. We will drink together. We will discuss together. We will plan together. We will network, a wonderful term meaning making new contacts. And we will see an assortment of trinkets that are for sale as gifts for yourself or others."
A FEW YEARS later, Gilleece took it one step farther and made it more than just being a fun evening. It became a fun evening with a purpose. This was due in large part to her association with Jennifer Canaff, head of the Northern Virginia Dress for Success Foundation. Gilleece asked what she could do to help. Canaff told her that she needed clothes, so Gilleece added this request to her invitation.
"On Hussies night you can help women who need your help by donating clothes and bringing them with you on Hussies night. DC Metropolitan Dress for Success, part of a world wide non-profit, provides interview suits, confidence boosts and career development to job-seeking and low-income and welfare-to-work women in the D.C. Metropolitan area. Many of our clients are suited by the clothes you donate. However, there are occasions when we do not have the sizes necessary to suit a client and we need to purchase professional clothing. We need clothing donations, which include suits and blouses, in good condition and dry-cleaned, size 12 and over."
"I still have boxes of clothes that were donated that night," said Gilleece.
THIS YEAR, Gilleece added two more causes to her crusade. Just a few days before last year's Hussies party, Gilleece was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was too late to cancel the party, but her head was spinning with the revelation. Many people who came to the party knew about the diagnosis and Gilleece said, "It was amazing how many people came up to me and told me that they were breast cancer survivors."
Gilleece had surgery on Dec. 5, and she is now a breast cancer survivor herself. She participated in the recent Breast Cancer Walk and as a thank-you to Inova Alexandria Hospital, where she had seven weeks of radiation, she asked members of Twig to come sell their cookbook. All proceeds from those sales support health initiatives at Inova Alexandria Hospital.
Carol Boyd was one of the women representing Twig and said, "We met her at a Walk and she invited us to come to this. It's wonderful for her to include us in this."
Gilleece was also selling Christmas cards, the proceeds of which benefit the Clark School for the Deaf. Gilleece's daughter, who is older now, attended the school for more than five years.
AND THEN THERE are the vendors. Gilleece said that there were 29 this year. They came with jewelry, handbags, clothing, glasswork, mosaics and more. Some set up in the kitchen, others in the living and dining rooms; many more were setup downstairs on and around the bar. Some have been coming for years, while others were there for the first time.
"A houseful of ladies with checkbooks, what more could a vendor ask for?" asked Linda Sherman, who was set up in a corner of the living room. Through her business, Paradux Designs, she sells glassware, jewelry and ornaments. "It's fabulous, you always meet great people, but it's always a challenge to sell more than you buy," she said. "Mary Ann is gracious to open up her home."
Next to her was Katy Beery, who said it was her first time there as a vendor. Ginny Peters was there as a visitor and had just finished purchasing some wine glasses from Sherman. "This is my second year here; it's so much more fun than going to a store," she said.
Kathryn Hook, who was selling her daughter's products, Designs by Dee Anne Eaton, said, "I think it's fantastic, it's a good time."
In the kitchen were the "slaves," men who come every year to pour wine, put out food and assist where needed. Most of these men have been coming since the Hussies party began. Michael Byers heads up the group, and was joined by Felix Boccadero, John McCance, Bill Chadbourne, Steve Osborne, Doug Wheeless and Bill Chadbourne. Decked in Hawaiian shirts, they enjoy the party as much as the women.
"I've known Mary Ann quite a while and enjoy coming over here," said Wheeless. "We serve wine and help ladies unload their wares."
In another part of the living room, James and Denise Sweat's products were attracting a lot of attention. Labeled as Bag Man, James Sweat said that he had been working for his mother as a designer when he decided to create a line of beaded hand bags and start his own company. James and his wife named their new company, Swing Bags, because they both love the 1920's and thought it would be an appropriate name, since their bags remind them of sassy girls of the 1920's.
Sweat designs the bags, which are then produced for their company. While the pattern on the London Tote bag may look familiar, the composition is not. Look closely and one will see that the bag with the Burberry pattern is produced with the tiniest of beads. Other designs include: Studio 54, wild sunflower, hibiscus tropicale, pinot noir, butterfly flight, water lilies, penny candy and pink bubbly.
Swing bags are currently available at all three locations of Tickled Pink, including the one on South Saint Asaph Street., or via their website, www.swingbags.com.
Another vendor, Laima Simanavichus-Oram, was set up in the kitchen. She said that she has been coming since the beginning.
"It's great to network; you meet so many influential women. It's amazing how much power is in this house," she said.
THAT SAME NIGHT in Old Town, the five-year anniversary wine & cheese reception at The Winery got rolling around 8 p.m. When the party ended a few hours later, about 250 guests had passed through the store, donating more than $11,000 to St. Ann's Infant and Maternity Home.
This is not a cause that most local people are aware of, but it is a cause that Jane Cahill, owner of The Winery, has taken ownership of. She has raised almost $30,000 during the five years that she's been throwing a party at her shop.
Not only was she able to turn over money to the home, but she said that she also had about 75 packages of clothes and toys to turn over.
"Since they have so many transitional children, they want to make sure that they're able to send every child home with something around the holidays," said Cahill, who discovered St. Ann's when she was working for Eastman Kodak. One of the sales reps was familiar with the organization and got the sales group involved in helping out. One year they worked as Santa's elves during a holiday party. They then worked to get St. Ann's designated as Eastman Kodak's Mid-Atlantic philanthropy organization.
According to Cahill, St. Ann's is the only emergency placement facility [for mothers and children] for D.C., Virginia and Maryland. Their website, www.saint-anns.com says that it began in August 1860, when three Sisters of Charity came from Emmitsburg, Md., to the Nation's Capital to open the city' first foundling home. In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed an Act of Congress officially incorporating the home now known as St. Ann's Infant & Maternity Home. Here they cared for orphans of the Civil War era, as well as for "unprotected females during their confinement in childbirth."
Through Cahill's association with St. Ann's, she met Sister Josephine, the chief executive officer. "She's been there about 15 years; I've known her for 13. She is a saint. Her staff works so hard, 24-hours a day."
When Cahill left Kodak to start The Winery, she wanted to maintain that relationship, so she asked Sister Josephine if she would like her to use her store as a forum to raise money. The way to do that was to throw a big party every year and invite all her friends, family and customers. The party is free, but guests have a chance to bid on baskets filled with rare and unusual wines. Most of these bottles have been donated by Cahill's parents, Peg and Jack Cahill, and her aunt, Jane Pfeiffer.
"My distributor makes wines available to them that are usually hard to get," said Cahill. The community has been so great, they really want to contribute."