Ready to lend a hand

Longtime Gilroy volunteer Gerry Foisy, also known as Mr. Garlic,

Flash bulbs, a flower-trimmed runway, a few dozen models, and a
who’s who of the business and civic community ushered in the latest
spring fashions.

Black pants are a basic of any woman’s outfit,

an emcee noted as a model made her way down the runway in a
sleek business suit. The audience applauded each ensemble. Waiters
ducked in and out, plucking dishes and serving food.
Flash bulbs, a flower-trimmed runway, a few dozen models, and a who’s who of the business and civic community ushered in the latest spring fashions.

“Black pants are a basic of any woman’s outfit,” an emcee noted as a model made her way down the runway in a sleek business suit. The audience applauded each ensemble. Waiters ducked in and out, plucking dishes and serving food.

A swanky fashion show in Los Angeles or New York? Ralph Lauren or Donatella Versace? No, local models graced the Gilroy Elks Club runway as dozens of local volunteers and businesses supported the annual event for a good cause.

On any given weekend, Gilroy residents are giving their time and money to help charitable causes, whether raising scholarship money for seniors at Gilroy High School, feeding the needy, or supporting youth programs.

Heather Broderson is already a veteran volunteer and model at the young age of 13, having participated in the Elks Club fashion show for the last nine years. Broderson, whose grandmother started the fashion show 42 years ago, said “it is a family tradition.”

The annual fundraiser benefits the Major Project – a collaboration between Elks Clubs in California and Hawaii to provide in-house therapists to disabled children. The kids supported by the program are typically from families who cannot afford such services or whose insurance does not cover the costs.

“When you see the first child your money helps, there’s nothing like it,” said John Berger, a local Elks Club leader on hand for the event.

Roxanne Mayne began helping out with the Elks Club fashion show 16 years ago. It’s now difficult to find an aspect of the fundraiser she is not involved with, from designing the show’s brochure, to asking businesses to supply donations for raffles, to cooking several hundred upside-down pineapple cake desserts.

Mayne said the Major Project is the Elks Club event closest to her heart.

“If I didn’t think it was a good cause, I wouldn’t be here,” she said.

Last year, the Elks show raised nearly $8,000 for the Major Project.

Scores of guests and dozens of volunteers turning out for a fundraiser is not unusual in Gilroy, where almost every weekend charitable events take place. On the same day as the fashion show, St. Joseph’s Family Center hosted a St. Patrick’s Day-themed dinner to keep their shelves stocked with food and supplies for needy families.

Together, the charities expected to raise more than $25,000.

With nearly 100 registered nonprofit groups and innumerable charitable clubs and associations, Gilroy is abuzz with good will and giving. One event after another packs the weekends as Gilroyans turn out to raise money for disabled children, poor families, schools, student scholarships, music programs and a host of other causes.

“Volunteering gives people an opportunity to do something they really like, purely for the sake of doing it,” said Sherri Stuart, who serves on four nonprofit boards of directors. “And they get to choose what they want to be involved in. It’s very rewarding.”

Many charitable events have a small but faithful following, such as the annual No Ball Game Day organized by the Gilroy chapter of the American Association of University Women. For the last two years, the group’s 70 members have organized a day of board games and food to raise scholarship money for young women. This year the event, which gets its name because it always falls the Saturday before Super Bowl Sunday, raised $2,600, according to member Susan Patereau, a local realtor.

She said the South County Realtor’s Association raised $30,000 in 2004 through various fundraisers for three hunger-relief charities serving Gilroy and Morgan Hill. This year the group has organized a Texas Hold ’em poker tournament every Thursday night in Morgan Hill to bring in more funds.

Other groups also find innovative ways to help out, such as Las Madras, which organizes weekend garage sales to help new mothers with children’s expenses, and the Gilroy Auxiliary League, an all-women’s group that plans to start an annual home and garden tour in May to support youth programs.

Paula Goldsmith said her path to the Gilroy Auxiliary League started by first getting involved with Parent Teacher Associations in the 1980s, as her kids made their way through Gilroy public schools. She eventually got involved with the Garlic Festival, and in 2000 joined the auxiliary league, which raises about $10,000 for local youths each year.

She credits the Garlic Festival, the city’s crowning charity event, for inspiring widespread community involvement.

“The spirit of volunteerism is really strong in Gilroy,” she said. “That probably sets us off from other communities that don’t have that type of event.”

The Garlic Festival draws more than a 100,000 visitors to Gilroy each July and requires the hard work of thousands of volunteers. For their service, volunteers get credit for hourly wages which they direct to a charitable group of their choosing. In 2004, the Garlic Festival raised $225,000 for more than 160 organizations in Gilroy and surrounding towns.

Tom Valenta is one of about 300 people who make up the volunteer team for the Gilroy Chamber of Commerce.

“There’s no other place in the U.S. that I know of that you have 4,000 volunteers come out because they want to do it,” said Valenta, the 2003 chamber volunteer of the year. “And the money stays in town.”

Valenta and other volunteers at events big and small are quick to praise local businesses, which contribute gift certificates for auctions, provide catering services, and donate time and money to help make charity events successful.

Majid Bahriny, the owner of Mama Mia’s Italian restaurant, in February provided the Italian buffet for the first-ever Sister Cities dinner, an event that raised $8,000 for the international exchange program.

For Bahriny, who grew up in Iran and studied in Germany before moving to America, giving is a family tradition that spans continents and generations.

“My dad was very much involved and helped any way he could,” Bahriny recalled. “That’s the person I learned from. He had his own small business – export/import of vehicles – and he used to volunteer a lot and help out with the community.”

The Rosso family regularly dips into its inventory of furniture to help out with local charity auctions and raffles. Jaime Rosso, a board member with the Gilroy Unified School District, said the family concentrates on three areas of giving: arts, schools and education, and nonprofit groups in general, both in Gilroy and Morgan Hill.

“We’ve been increasing [our giving] as we grow,” Rosso said. “We realize it’s also a way of letting people know we’re invested in the community. We, as a business, want to be considered a contributor to the community. The more we have, the more we get involved.”

Donna Pray, director of the Gilroy Foundation, said it’s difficult to gauge exactly how much Gilroyans give in time and money each year to help out. But the signs of good will, while hard to measure, are impossible to miss.

“If there’s a lack of something in the community, people step up to the plate,” Pray said. “It’s wonderful to see a community like this – average volunteers come in and say ‘That’s a good thing. I want to help out.'”

Plenty of ways to become involved

Seasonal or specific days

• Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s Ambassador’s Ball, May 6, call Raul Vega at 839-1900

• 2nd Annual Gilroy Community Health Day, May 21 at Glen View School, call Eileen Obata at 848-7145

• National River Clean-Up Day, May 21, call Santa Clara County Valley Water District at 265-2607 x2238 or visit

• American Cancer Society’s Gilroy Relay for Life, June 18-19, call Emilie Robb at 879-1032

• Hispanic Chamber’s July 4th Firework’s celebration, call Raul Vega at 839-1900

• Gilroy Garlic Festival, July 29-31, call the Garlic Festival Association at 842-1625 or visit

• Leadership Gilroy, Jan. to Feb., call president Deb Smith at 846-6893

Year-Round Need

• Gavilan College Puente Program, call Celia Marquez at 848-4807 or visit

• Gilroy Eigleberry Neighborhood Association, call Art Barron at 315-0854

• Los Arroyos Neighborhood Association, call Judy Hess at 847-6783

• Rebekah Children’s Services, call 846-2140 or visit

• Salvation Army, call 848-5373

• St. Joseph’s Family Center, contact director Dave Cox, 842-6662

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