Greater Giving through GRACE
Oct 05, 2011 10:59AM ● Published by Mike
With the recent economic woes, people across the country are in need of financial assistance now more than ever. The growing need for medical, financial, and housing assistance has been unjustly met with tightened corporate, governmental, and household budgets which many charitable organizations have come to rely on for years. Here in north Texas, the Grapevine Relief and Community Exchange (GRACE) has seen a more than 40 percent increase in requests for assistance during this period. In this same period records show a proportional 40 percent decrease in individual contributions.
Through its profound network of dedicated employees, volunteers and the generosity of individuals and companies GRACE strives to uphold its mission to help those in need with more than a just a hand-out, but a hand up toward self-sufficiency. In 2010 alone GRACE distributed more than $1.5 million worth of goods and services to meet the immediate needs of families in Grapevine, Colleyville, and Southlake. In addition to these staples, GRACE provides job training and other educational and motivational opportunities to help its clients build their own strong foundation for the future.
In addition to government grants, corporate donations and the generosity of many, GRACE does its share to manage its own financial needs. GRACE operates a successful resale program which funds a large portion of the annual budget. Furniture and clothing donations are received and sorted, then distributed to GRACE programs. Items not needed for other programs or ones that will provide more client benefit by being sold are taken to GRACEful Buys, their upscale resale store in Grapevine and Style & GRACE, their boutique for women's designer fashions.
When it comes to funding, the organization’s annual GRACE Gala brings the community together for the benefit of neighbors in need. Since 2004, the glamorous black tie event has raised more than $1.9 million in total net proceeds. While GRACE staffers and volunteers ramp up for the much anticipated event this October 15th, Southlake Style sat down with GRACE Executive Director Shonda Schaefer to discuss the state of giving in north Texas.
Mike Tesoriero (MT): How many different programs and employees and volunteers does GRACE utilize in its mission to help those in north Texas?
Shonda Schaefer (SS): GRACE is most fortunate to have so many dedicated volunteers to carry our programs into the communities we serve. Simply put, with a small staff of less than 50, and a volunteer workforce of more than 2,500, GRACE provides food, shelter, clothing and medical care for those in need in our area.
MT: From a food pantry to medical assistance and most everything in between GRACE presides over a very strong organization of many differing programs and resources. From a management perspective how does GRACE manage it all?
SS: When I mentioned the dedication of our volunteers that extends to our Board of Directors and our Advisory Board most certainly. These boards are comprised of industry leaders, community advocates, entrepreneurs and others who generously bring their savvy and influence to the table for GRACE. In addition, I have been blessed to form a top-tier leadership staff, each bringing a dozen or more years of management experience in their fields. It is a team effort.
MT: What is the biggest misconception about GRACE and its fulfilling needs in the area?
SS: We’re blessed with a prosperous and growing area, so it is really hard to imagine families in need right here. I know that right in the heart of northeast Tarrant County—there are people wondering where their next meal will come from. There are mothers and fathers who are in desperate need of help to keep their families fed, clothed, and healthy. With our economic woes, that line—those needing help—seems to be growing longer each and every day. And at the end of the day, when we’ve given out everything we can, there are still people waiting in that line.
MT: How has the recent downturn in the economy affected GRACE in both dollars donated and volunteer hours? How have you rallied in response to these challenges?
SS: Like I said, that line is growing. We are experiencing significant spikes in people coming to us in crisis-mode. Many of them as, close as two months ago, never imagined they would need the kind of support GRACE gives. On the other hand our charitable gifts have dropped significantly from last year—especially gifts from individual donors. It’s a lasting decline, too. Even if the economy rebounds, as a lag indicator charities will be the last to see any benefit.
We’ve rallied behind our volunteers who give their time so generously. Several companies have been hard hit by the economy and can no longer support GRACE financially. Yet, their employees take action and work on projects all around the GRACE locations. Many donate building materials, lumber and paint for the projects and keep GRACE functional and inviting.
Civic clubs, social organizations and churches are some of our strongest advocates, supporters and partners. Fund raising events—one church even holds a 5K run for us in the springtime—food drives, clothing drives, drives for school supplies, toy drives, renovation projects, and much more. It’s truly amazing all they do for our families.
This all brings me to our response to the economy: we really are all in the same boat. In past bad economic times, charities could look to granting agencies or the government for help. But now even large granting agencies—just like individual donors—have taken huge hits on their investment portfolios and don’t have the money to give. State grants, HUD grants—nearly all have been cut or eliminated entirely. Thing is, we have been lean for years. We’re working as efficiently and as effectively as possible. If you’ll pardon the expression: that’s our saving grace. We intend to weather these bad times by working the way we always work: doing the most good we can with what we have.
MT: In what ways can area businesses best partner with GRACE for the greater good of north Texas?
SS: Our greatest need is, and continues to be, financial support for our families. Businesses have a unique opportunity to partner with GRACE to meet the marketing aims of their businesses. Sponsorships for the GRACE Gala offer a long list of marketing benefits that include advertising, signage, web links and more, as well as a table at the best gala in town! We are also partnering with organizations that are holding events to raise money for GRACE. We’ll work with almost any business to create and promote an event that will help them reach their marketing aims, and help raise money for our mission at the same time.
MT: The GRACE Gala is considered the Black Tie Event of the Year, how much work goes into the event?
SS: The gala is the event of the year in many ways! It’s great fun, first of all. Gourmet foods, fine wines, wonderful entertainment, great opportunities to win a car, vacation trips, once-in-a-lifetime experiences and other prizes in the auction. This year’s gala committee members will serve over one thousand hours throughout the year to bring the event to life. This year’s GRACE Gala will be at the beautiful new Irving Convention Center.
The gala offers us a way to raise needed funds and it also gives us a chance to highlight the successes our clients have experienced throughout the year. We try to feature two or three stories about our clients that show why the last two words of our mission statement are “self-sufficiency.” Finally, we honor those who have given a full measure of support to GRACE over the past year, and we present the “Angel of GRACE” award to one who exemplifies the commitment and passion embodied in the statement, “Giving as we have received, to help those in need.”
MT: What are GRACE’s biggest needs as we move into the Holiday Season?
SS: As you can imagine the holidays are hardest for our clients who want to give their families great Christmas memories, but can’t afford it. No sooner than we close down the gala, we begin gearing up for the Christmas Cottage. Volunteers will decorate and stock a warehouse with toys, games, children’s clothes and other items for children. Our clients—just the parents—come through and pick out gifts for their children as they would if they were shopping in any department store. They get to experience the joy of selecting the gifts their children will like, and the kids get the things they really want.
Our Christmas Cottage will need plenty of volunteer hours, toys, decorations, and food for the holiday food baskets. Except for these, our needs at Christmas are virtually the same as the rest of the year: we need funding to help people in crisis and guide them toward self-sufficiency.