The Pink Ladies bazaar kicks off on Saturday, Nov. 30, bringing live Christmas music, plenty of home-baked food, their signature tea, sandwiches, raffle tickets and an appearance by Santa Claus to Camana Bay’s Arts and Recreation Centre.
The event marks 33 years of the Pink Ladies and a special moment for founder Olive Miller, who celebrated her 92nd birthday on Nov. 9. In 1980, as secretary of the National Council of Voluntary Organizations, she helped open the Home for the Aged, now called the Pines Retirement Home.
Having seen Pink Ladies volunteering in Bermuda and the Bahamas, Ms Miller approached the NCVO, seeking to ensure the new retirement home would always have volunteer help.
Cayman’s Pink Ladies were founded with 20 people, working at the Cayman Islands Hospital while awaiting the opening of the Home for the Aged. The group, now with 100 members, continues to work at the Pines and the hospital, operating the Pink Hibiscus Coffee Shop and donating its profits to charity.
Current director Pamela Webster, who spent 17 years as a Pink Lady before her October appointment as head of the group, says everything the group earns, whether at the coffee shop, through fundraising – including the Christmas bazaar – and sales, corporate and individual donations, teas, tickets and raffles, “every penny we raise,” she says, “goes right back to the community.
“Last year we raised $84,000; we gave away $84,000. The elderly and children are our focus, which is why our support goes chiefly to The Pines and the Lighthouse School and the NCVO’s education and children’s programs,” she said, but follows with a list of the Pink Ladies main beneficiaries.
“We gave $10,000 to the Cancer Society, $5,000 to the Crisis Center, $6,000 to the Lighthouse School and $25,000 to the Pines,” she said.
The list includes $3,000 to the Special Olympics and $5,000 to Cayman HospiceCare. The item that tops the roster, however, is the Pink Ladies NCVO parent.
“We gave them $20,000 last year, and $30,000 this year,” Ms Webster said, with the money supporting dozens of NCVO programs throughout Cayman.
The 2012 Christmas bazaar set a new record, raising $40,000 in one day through a combination of sales and generous private donations. The only sum the Pink Ladies retained was “what we need to run the coffee shop.”
“We only keep certain amounts,” the director said. “We keep what we need to run the coffee shop and give the rest away.”
The coffee shop operates at 41 percent profitability.
“We do not have any costs as we are volunteers. We buy our own polo shirts and aprons. All of our organization executive officers volunteer their time to keep us organized” – from professional accountants to human resource and relationship managers – “and we rely on the community for fundraising. We pay a small kitchen staff from our coffee-shop profits and are always looking for volunteers,” Ms Webster said.
Probably the Pink Ladies’ most high-profile activity is the trolley service that tours the hospital on Monday and Thursday mornings between 9 and 11 a.m.
Two women take a trolley around all the wards and offices of the hospital, selling hot and cold drinks, snacks, patties, fruit, and othe items. Other activities include a Tuesday-morning craft group that meets in Dart Park in South Sound, creating an array of handmade items and decorations to be sold at the Christmas Bazaar and on commission throughout the year.
This year’s bazaar runs between 2 and 5 p.m. and will feature performances by the Cayman Choir and the National Orchestra. Plant sales and a children’s corner – where Santa will sit for photographs – and a raffle with a range of prizes donated by local companies will fill the afternoon. Meanwhile, tables groaning with food, all made by the Pink Ladies themselves, will feed the hungry.
“Volunteers prepare all the food. I’ll probably spend $100 to raise $100,” Ms Webster said, anticipating a long session creating baked goods. “That’s just what we do.”
Attendance has improved each year, with 2012 totals near 1,400. Not wishing to provoke ill luck, however, Ms Webster says she expects 1,000 guests on Saturday. Entry tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for children.
She finished with a plea for volunteers: “We are always looking for new people,” she said. The group does not require sizable swathes of time, as little as “three hours per month.”
Most of the current volunteers, she said, “started in their late 20s and early 30s.” They did a little bit of everything: “pushing a trolley, ‘slinging hash’ in the coffee shop, running the crafts program.”
“When I joined, I was 30 years old, and I have always had a career, family and travel. We are looking for a dwindling breed,” Ms Webster said. “Please, just ask your boss for three hours per month. Who is going to say no?”