If tea came in pink, Lisa Scruggs would be a very happy lady.
Scruggs, the founder of the Afternoon Tea Society, has been planning the Society’s first Breast Cancer Benefit Celebri-Tea for May 1 at the Inn at Buckeystown in Buckeystown, Md., and has realized that everywhere she looks lately, all she can see is pink.
“I didn’t even realize I was wearing a pink shirt until right now,” Scruggs said Friday afternoon in her McLean home. “I’m in a pink mood lately. Everything I’m doing is in pink.”
A life-long tea drinker, Scruggs started the Afternoon Tea Society seven years ago as a newcomer to Northern Virginia. “I didn’t know anyone, and I wanted to meet other women so my husband wouldn’t have to drink tea with me all the time,” she said with a laugh.
When a coworker told her of a friend’s diagnosis with breast cancer, Scruggs immediately wanted to do something to comfort the woman. She initially wanted to host a tea in the woman’s honor, but she was reluctant because of her illness and because the chemotherapy treatment had taken her hair.
“We made her a basket with some tea and crackers and a few other things, because there are incredible health benefits of tea and we wanted to support her,” she said. “She was so blown away by the basket, she let us have a tea for her.”
A few years later, Scruggs and the Afternoon Tea Society now make between 25 and 30 baskets every three months for Inova Fairfax Hospital, the Virginia Hospital Center and Potomac Hospital to give to breast cancer patients. The baskets include a green and black tea, a bone china tea cup, some crackers to help settle the queasy stomachs of those enduring chemotherapy, a pamphlet for Y-Me, a national breast cancer patient help-line, a linen napkin and a cookbook including recipes for various tea sweets compiled by members of the Society.
“I never thought I’d be using tea to help people,” Scruggs said.
After an internship in Vancouver, British Columbia, Scruggs moved to Boston with her husband, Dave. She met a friend at an afternoon tea at the Ritz Hotel that served Harney teas, and she fell in love with their product, so much so that she began to drive out to the company’s headquarters near White Plaines, N.Y., every few months.
“Eventually they offered me a job because I was there so often,” she said, laughing. She worked with Harney and Sons, as it is now known, until the family moved to Northern Virginia in 1997. She then became an independent tea consultant, telling others the health benefits of teas and how they can be used to boost the immune system.
“Loose-leaf teas are much better for you than pre-bagged tea,” she said. “There are higher quantities of anti-oxidants, which help to strengthen the immune system, which is so important for cancer patients who need extra strength. Black teas are high in bioflavinoids, which are vitamin-like components that help strengthen the cell walls, which are really good for a healthy heart and cells,” she said.
AFTER HER WORK with Harney and Sons, she decided that their teas would be included in the baskets. “They test their teas each month for pesticides and chemicals. It’s important to give the most beneficial teas to patients,” she said.
Using her expertise to make others healthier through tea is something Scruggs has done for some time.
“I’ve done some community service work, teaching the benefits of tea at hospitals and libraries,” she said. “Eventually, when we started doing the baskets, we gave them to breast cancer patients at hospitals. We just prepared a basket for Elizabeth Edwards, but we’ve had a hard time getting through to her,” she said.
The dream of a “proper afternoon tea” is something Scruggs has hoped to make a reality for seven years, she said. “I’ve never been able to get it going, but about a year ago everything fell into place.”
It was when she attended a tea at the Inn at Buckeystown and met Janet Wells, proprietress of the Inn, that her dream began to be realized.
“I had talked to Janet during the tea and several other times that I’ve gone there with the Society, and when she offered the Inn, we took it,” Scruggs said. “They’re providing the food and we’re bringing all the tea.”
During the tea, the theme of which is “Honoring Mothers on May Day,” guests can participate in a silent auction to benefit Y-Me, a hotline that provides breast cancer patients with information on local specialists in everything from treatment to wigs to support groups.
“Y-Me is great because it allows patients to make empowered decisions about their treatment,” Scruggs said. “It lets people know they don’t have to face cancer alone.”
The auction will feature items donated by local organizations and individuals, including the Inn and the Afternoon Tea Society.
“We have signed tea books, a basket of British tea goods, a Longenberger basket filled with picnic things, overnight stays at the Inn at Buckeystown, Tea for Two sets, a silver tea set, all sorts of goodies,” Scruggs said.
Everyone who attends the tea will receive the Society’s teacup, a white bone china cup with pink roses and pale green leaves.
The admission fee of $65 per person will cover the cost of making one basket, Scruggs said, which are donated free-of-cost to the hospitals and some individual patients that are known by members of the Society.
Lois Crean, benefits chair for the Society, said the call for the baskets have grown as word of the Society’s donations begins to spread.
“WE’VE LEARNED that there’s a large call for these baskets,” she said. “It takes a lot of money to put the baskets together, and we knew if we wanted to continue to grow and provide baskets, we’d need to raise some money.”
The Society has received donations of teacups and linen napkins in the past, which are gratefully accepted, but more money is needed to continue their care baskets.
“The baskets bring so much joy to the patients,” it’s worth the extra work, she said.
The benefit on May 1 is the Society’s first fundraiser with the Inn, which Crean describes as “a lovely old mansion.”
“It’s going to be great,” she said. “We’re a very convivial group. If someone decided to come alone, she’d fit right in with us.”
The Afternoon Tea Society’s goal, in addition to preaching the gospel of a good cup of tea, is to “promote the art of sharing time together. We live in a crazy, busy life, and it’s good to take a pause and enjoy time together,” she said. “Drinking tea cannot be rushed. You have to set aside time to wait for the tea to brew, so it’s a very easy social thing to do.”
Wells said she’s excited about the event.
“There will be lots of different things going on. We’re doing whatever we can to help,” she said. “We have fliers up at the Inn right now, and tons of people have asked about it. It’s an exciting time. It should be a very elegant affair.”
The Inn will be decorated in pink and black and, weather permitting, a white tent may be set up in the Inn’s gardens to allow guests to enjoy a beautiful spring day.
“I’m thrilled to death about this,” Wells said. “It’s a wonderful event, and we could not be more pleased to participate. I want everyone to have the time of their life.”
The most important thing about both the benefit and the baskets is to remind cancer patients that they are not alone.
“This is not about pity, it’s about respect,” she said. “This isn’t, 'I feel sorry for you.' It’s more, 'I know you’re suffering and I love you. You’re still a viable human being.'”
Speaking at the benefit will be Alda Ellis, a soap-maker who lost her mother to breast cancer and now uses her decorative and specialized products to promote breast cancer awareness.
A breast cancer survivor herself, Ellis said her message is simple: Education is paramount for women to understand the disease and the importance of early detection.
“When my mother had cancer, she kept it a secret, but my sister and I promised to shout it from the rooftops after she died that women need to get their yearly mammograms done,” Ellis said. “I’m a poster child for early detection. With just a little surgery, I’m doing wonderfully. Early detection and education is key.”
She has written several books and often travels to various women’s organizations and business conferences to inspire women to chase their dreams. Her Web site, www.aldasforever.com, contains a tribute page to her mother and tells how that loss changed her professional life almost as much as her personal life.
Additionally, John Harney, owner of Harney and Sons Teas, will be at the event, as will Donn Marshall, who founded the Shelly A. Marshall Foundation after the death of his wife in the September 11 attacks. The Shelly A. Marshall Foundation has sponsored more than 30 intergenerational teas between high school seniors and senior citizens throughout Virginia and West Virginia, along with writing contests, children’s story hours and summer art workshops. More information about the foundation is available at www.shelleysfoundation.org.