The next several days will be jam-packed with kindness, consideration and caring as We Care hosts an auction and telethon, back-to-back.
We Care will get the ball rolling with an auction today at 6 p.m. at the American Legion Post 415, 315 E. Jackson St., in Galveston. The event begins with dinner and the auction following at 7 p.m. Items may be dropped off for auction at the post until 6 p.m.
The 2019 We Care Telethon will begin at 6 p.m. Friday at the WWKI-FM studios, 519 N. Main St., and will continue through until 6 p.m. Sunday. The annual event accepts donated items ranging from coins to handmade items to cars and resort vacations, and auctions them off during the weekend. Items can be dropped off for auction at the We Care Store, located at the studio, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and from 9 a.m. Friday through 6 p.m. Sunday.
We Care began in 1973 when founder and WWKI deejay Dick Bronson received a call from a factory worker, who said he needed help giving his family a proper Christmas. He donated $20, half of what was in his wallet, and invited listeners to donate. Ultimately, $1,000 was donated and more than the factory worker was helped that year, according the We Care website, www.wecarekokomo.org.
“When someone asked Dick why he chose to help families every year, he said, ‘Because we care,’” said Becky Varnell, We Care president.
Varnell has been volunteering for the organization for 41 years, and calls We Care her passion. Occasionally, Varnell’s kids ask her if she plans on retiring from the organization.
“’I’ll retire when I fall out of love with it,’ I tell them,” she said. “And, I just turned 70, so the day I fall out of love with it will likely be the day I pass.”
In the 47 years that We Care has operated, it has raised approximately $18 million. Last year, the organization raised $417,000. The most the organization has raised in a year was approximately $900,000, Varnell said. Funds raised through We Care are donated to the Salvation Army, Bona Vista, Kokomo Rescue Mission, Mental Health America of Kokomo and Goodfellows, usually toward their Christmas programs.
“There are no fundraising goals,” she said. “We take whatever the community gives us. Some years we get more, some years not as much. One thing doesn’t change, and it’s a common purpose to give to others.”
Many traditions were birthed from We Care. Some families donate an item for the telethon every year, some families buy one, Varnell said.
One of the telethon traditions is handmade Raggedy Ann dolls. The women who started the tradition of hand-making the dolls have now passed on, and Varnell said she hopes someone will keep the legacy alive.
An item that sticks out in Varnell’s mind is a donated car that Bronson rode in parades. There have been several cars and motor homes donated to the telethon over the years. Local businessman Allen Wilson has donated a car for the telethon this year, she said.
Volunteering in the annual event is akin to a reunion. Some volunteers began with We Care in the 1970s and continued, bringing their kids and grandkids.
“Some families even schedule their vacation time around the telethon, because from the top to the bottom, we’re all volunteers,” she said. “No one gets paid. It’s a labor of love.”
Anita Wooldridge began volunteering for We Care when she was a freshman in high school. She took a few years off after high school, and returned at 23 years old. This will be her 23rd year volunteering at the organization.
Wooldridge is tasked with taking in items, cataloging them and creating a description that explains the item well enough for TV and radio. She sees all kinds of items, from Barbies and baskets to playhouses.
She calls the people she volunteers with her “We Care friends.”
“You get to know these people and you love working with them every year,” she said. “I see these people come in for their first year, and they just get hooked. It’s a real bond that everyone here shares, and everyone here loves giving back to the community. It’s a really special thing.”