Group auctions bags for a cause


Grace Greenslit gingerly picked up a shiny red leather tote bag and unfastened the top snap to peer at First Lady Kendel Ehrlich's signature on the inside cloth.

The purse had belonged to Ehrlich, which is why Greenslit said she wanted it. She kept coming back to see if anyone had outbid her.

The purse was one of about 125 in a silent auction held to benefit Seniors Keep In Touch, an organization that makes daily telephone calls to homebound people in Carroll County.

"The auction is unique. I am amazed at the variety of purses," said Greenslit of Mount Airy.

The purses covered tables set up in the Carroll Arts Center in Westminster. There were big totes and small wristlets, handmade bags and gaudy clutches, brand-new purses and vintage bags.

There was something for everyone at the three-day event, said organizer Patty Owen.

"Everybody loves a purse. It's ageless and timeless," she said.

Owen is one of two part-time staff at Seniors Keep In Touch, a nonprofit organization that is part of the Community Foundation of Carroll County Inc.

She spends five mornings a week calling the 65 clients registered in the program. She said 10 clients are older than 90.

"We call just to check on them, remind them of their medicine and connect them to resources in the community," Owen said.

If a client is not reached after three attempts, relatives are contacted or the police are asked to go to the house to make sure the person is OK, Owen said.

"It's really helped a lot of the people," Owen said. "The goal is to keep them home as long as safely possible. This helps them age in place."

Established in 1997, the program is funded by grants and fundraisers, such as the purse auction, said organizer Donna Lewis, the community foundation's assistant director.

"Purses are fun. What girl doesn't like a purse?" Lewis said.

Organizers hoped to have 50 donated purses but ended up with more than 300.

"The generosity of this community was overwhelming," Lewis said.

About 175 purses also could be purchased on the spot, Lewis said.

Visitors started buying them more than an hour before the event officially began Thursday, said Lindy McNulty, an organizer.

"People were giving us more than we were asking," McNulty said. "Like the $5 items, they were saying, `Here, take $10.'"

McNulty donated a limited edition red leather tote bag given to swimmers in the 2004 summer Olympics.

Peggy Davison, the lead singer of The Angels, donated a gray clutch she carried to the Grammy Awards. It contained the group's "My Boyfriend's Back" CD, which Davison planned to autograph for the winner.

The Mount Airy Senior Center contributed a purse with flowered needlepoint that is more than 100 years old.

Ann Allen, an advisory board member, said the funds would go toward registering more clients and extending the staff's hours.

Most of the purses were stuffed with items to increase their value, which ranged from about $25 to $250.

One black and silver sequined bag contained two Baltimore Symphony Orchestra tickets. A straw beach tote came with a towel, flip-flops and tanning salon gift certificate.

Lewis said organizers filled some purses with "guy stuff," including a service center gift certificate, a Ravens blanket and a Super Bowl XXV football.

Joe Hanyok said he came along with his wife, daughter and daughter-in-law.

"This isn't my thing," he said.

But Hanyok is familiar with Seniors Keep In Touch because he is a volunteer. He speaks to a client two or three times a week just to say hello.

"I really enjoy chatting with [my client] because I learn about Westminster since he's been around for years," he said.

Even though Owen's calls typically last only a few minutes, she said she tries to bring some cheer to the client's day.

"If someone needs a little longer to talk, I'll always call them back a little later," Owen said.

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