Desserts take center stage at Friend's auction

Patriot photo by Arundhati Das Mekena Messer, the youngest member of Friend's Board of Directors.
Patriot photo by Arundhati Das Ruth Lippincott, one of the earliest patrons at Friend's 25th annual Benefit Auction on Saturday.

Something’s got to be right with a world in which a community comes together on a warm Saturday evening to raise the dough and offer a variety of other coveted knick-knacks for auction to bolster finances for several causes.

Celebrating its 25th year, the Annual Benefit Auction is a flagship event of Friend, Inc. Community Services that was founded in 1972 and re-established in 1987 by the Kutztown Ministerium.

“The annual auction is one of our major fund-raisers to support the activities of Friend, primarily the food pantry and support services for people who need referrals to other agencies or just need help in times of emergency,” said Barbara Coffin, who sits on the Board of Directors.

In 2013, Friend served a total of 440 households with 1,128 individuals. In addition to that, 420 households consisting of 1,134 individuals were served through the food pantry, including 394 children, 593 adults and 147 elderly. Crunching the numbers, Friend Executive Director Sandra L. Wise was humble in her guesstimate of this year’s proceeds from the auction.

“We brought in around $16,000 last year and are expecting the same amount from this year’s auction,” she said.

On the occasion, State Senator Judy Schwank presented Friend with a proclamation endorsing the organization’s goal “to enhance the quality of life of the people living in Northeastern Berks County by offering a variety of services to assist residents of any age, income or background who have difficulty in overcoming the obstacles of everyday living.”

Addressing the gathering, she said, “Considering it’s the 25th year (of the Friend Annual Benefit Auction), it’s amazing that a fundraiser would last that long. You obviously see the need of the community and are to be commended for the work that you are doing.”

The citation lauded the leadership’s role in the distribution of 156,000 pounds of food and 722 referrals to health and human service agencies in 2013.

Later talking to The Kutztown Patriot, the Senator said, “The residents of Northeastern Berks County owe a debt of gratitude to the Board of Directors, staff and volunteers of Friend for their leadership in enhancing the quality of life of the disadvantaged families and individuals in the community.”

Outlining the future of Friend, board member Ed Hanna said, “We want to basically step back and understand what the needs of the community are and the needs as perceived by the community of the Northeast rural area. We need to get a better understanding of the people who need our help and the gaps in our services so that we can adapt and grow.”

“The other key focus is to identify the resources we can bring into this area which will help its people to build its way up,” said Hanna. “So we are looking at developing ourselves and being stronger and more responsive to the specific needs of the community. We also strive to educate the existing businesses and population about what Friend is all about and the basic concept of community building.”

The non-profit, humanitarian mission was precisely what drew Mekena Messer to Friend, and she joined its board as the youngest member a little over a year ago after graduating the Leadership Berks Program at Alvernia University.

“This past year as member of the Friend’s board, I learned more about the community I grew up in,” said Messer. “For young people to join it is important to find a connection to the cause. For me that connection was a desire to give my time to benefit the people of this county.”

Soon it was time for auctioneer Terry Lieb to take to the stage and begin the auction, starting with the showpiece: the baklava.

On an optimistic note, former board member Heather Hanna said, “I like the variety of the auction items this year and I think they are getting more interesting. But the baklava is going to score through the roof.”

One of the Baklava’s went for $100.

Watching the bidding was Terence McConlogue, a “hands-on volunteer” with Friend for 25 years and someone who watched it grow in leaps and bounds. At home on a short leave from his posting, the military man was only too happy to spend a Saturday evening with “this group that’s essentially family.”

At the center of that warm, familial gathering were also Joe and Ruth Lippincott, two among the many oldest and dedicated patrons of Friend who were only too happy to be present and extend their support, silently and steadfastly, for a cause close to their heart.