Soroptimists raise funds for First Step organization

Teresa Bizoe (left) of First Step accepts a $5,000 donation from Soroptimists International of Trenton Area represented by Veronica Drakos.

Paula Neuman

The coronavirus lockdown has created a nightmare for people in abusive relationships, and shelters for victims of domestic violence are more in need than ever for resources and donations.

“The cases of domestic violence are increasing as a result of people being forced to be in abusive situations with no relief,” said Janelle Rose, co-owner of the Willow Tree in Wyandotte and a member of Soroptimist International of Trenton Area, a service group to advance the status of women and girls.

The women in the 50-member club — which officially represents Grosse Ile, Riverview, Trenton, Gibraltar, Woodhaven and Brownstown, and has members from those communities and also Wyandotte, Southgate, Rockwood, Allen Park, Lincoln Park, Monroe, Flat Rock and other cities — wanted to help First Step in this trying time.

First Step is a nonprofit domestic violence aid society in Wayne County that offers shelter and resources to women and children in need of help. The nonprofit reports worsening and more lethal violence because of the coronavirus lockdown and waning economy, and also a reduced capacity to take in families in need as shelters guard against virus spread by keeping people separated.

The local Soroptimists also had to cancel some of their “normal” programs and fundraisers that might have helped.

“So Abby Premoe, our new president, came up with the idea for a bottle and can drive,” Rose said. “It seemed to be a good way to help people get rid of the cans that were piling up due to recycle and bottle returns being closed, and to make some money for First Step.”

The women went to work.

They posted about the effort on social media and on the club’s Facebook page. Soroptimist Ann Peraino of Grosse Ile collected many bottles and cans for the effort even while being 8 1/2 months pregnant. One drop-off site for the cans and bottles was Premoe’s business, Instinct Salon in Flat Rock.

The women stored their growing “collection” in their garages, but the response was so great that they quickly ran out of space. The collection effort was led by Soroptimist Catherine Infantado of Lincoln Park, who said she spent five straight days collecting bottles.

Soroptimist Veronica Drakos of Woodhaven took charge of returning the bottles. But first she had to find a place to store them until businesses could accept returns. She contacted Catherine Tiefer.

“A past member, Catherine offered the use of one of her storage buildings on her farm,” Rose said. “We filled that and were able to hold them until bottle return stations were open again.”

Bags and bags of bottles and cans were transferred to Tiefer’s South Rockwood home. Then once business bottle returns opened up, the women had to cash in the thousands and thousands of cans and bottles from their collection effort.

“A heartfelt thanks goes out to the team of Tessa and Doug Smith, who cashed in empties,” Drakos said.

The bottle drive raised about $2,500, and Tiefer matched that. On Aug 18, the Soroptimists presented a check for $5,000 to First Step.

“This couldn’t have been possible without an awesome group of volunteers that gave their time to give to women who need our help,” Drakos said.

That effort is just one of the club’s many charitable endeavors.

“We do many other smaller projects like Christ Net, Hope in a Handbag, and a Virtual Family Run,” Rose said. “There are other efforts we’ll consider resuming after we ‘normalize’ post covid-19. One is a project to fund a Water Box, which provides clean water to communities that need it in situations like Flint. We award scholarships to women that are seeking education, are the heads of households, etc. These scholarships are awarded on an annual basis.

“So many good projects, efforts, ideas — always being shared, and we get to socialize and learn things about ourselves during our monthly dinner meetings.”

The club holds a business meeting on the second Tuesday of the month, and meets on the fourth Tuesday at Truago in Trenton for a dinner and speaker presentations. No meetings take place in July or August.

“Our specific group includes seasoned veterans of over 35 years and newbies that have just joined,” Rose said. “We have members from all walks of life, women in their 70s and beyond and others that are 20-something — and everything in between.

“The common thread is that we care about making a difference in the lives of women.”

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