It’s 8:40 P.M. I’m watching about 50 people clear off more than 80 messy tables and stack at least 1,000 chairs.
The 28th Annual Shrimp Boil, a fundraiser that has been a mainstay of The Rose almost since our beginning, concluded less than an hour earlier. For the past four hours, we fed, entertained and visited with 800+ people. I know I was hugged by at least half of them.
What started in 1989 as a one-time community effort to get us through the end of our fiscal year has mushroomed into our signature event. The venue has changed and the staff don’t de-head hundreds of pounds of shrimp or shuck baskets of fresh corn anymore, but it’s still a huge undertaking and a real community effort. The Shrimp Boil always reminds me of a huge family reunion, where young and old come together with two, three and four generations attending. The crowd is filled with familiar faces; some going back to that very first event. Amazing!
I look across the cavernous space of the Pasadena Convention Center at a man lifting one of the tables and think, “Wasn’t that the man who only an hour before bid $2,000 on one of the live auction prizes?”
Sure enough it was. He and his friends hoist huge round tables onto equally huge metal carrier carts and roll them toward the back of the building to the storage area. I look over at another group lugging boxes of supplies to the front doors and yet another group loading them onto the U-Haul truck.
I wonder: Where do all these good people come from?
Dozens of people in blue T-shirts move among the crowd. They are the official Shrimp Boil Committee -- staff and volunteers who have worked on this event for months, meeting weekly, soliciting auction items, sending invitations, selling event tickets. In the end, everything went off pretty much as planned.
My staff has done an incredible job and I know I could never thank them enough. Shannon L. has built an amazing team. She, along with the other Shannon, Shannon Mac, Elyse and the rest of the Development Team made it all look effortless to our guests.
Bob Domec, past board member and longtime supporter, pulled me aside and pointed to the back of one of the volunteers.
“You need to change that word,” he said.
“What word?” I asked looking at the large block letters spelling out the word: COMMITTEE.
“You need to change it to COMMITTED.”
He’s right. They are committed to the cause. They come together to raise money for the care of uninsured women and are part of The Rose in ways I probably will never fully understand and for reasons I may never know.
Like Geary, who once again insisted on showing up at 7:30 A.M. for an event that doesn’t start until 4 P.M. He and his group worked twelve hours the day before setting up all the tables and chairs and doing as much prep as possible. Today, scads of volunteers have been there since noon finishing up.
Even so, he was there at 7:30 A.M. “Why?” I teased.
“The early birds,” he replied. To my confused look, he patiently explained, “Every year, those ladies come early with their homemade desserts. I know they will only make one trip out and if we aren’t here there will be no one to take their donations.”
This year those ladies came a little later in the morning but come they did! Still, around 1:50 P.M. we were worried there wasn’t going to be enough. I was heading off to the closest store when Shannon L. texted me: The cavalry has arrived! Sharon, Helen and Mary are here with plenty.
‘Oh, we of little faith.’ Those three longtime volunteers brought over a hundred cakes, cupcakes, sweet breads and dozens of bags filled with cookies. Sharon had already sold 4 of her upside down cakes for $75 each. More volunteers brought other desserts and soon the rows of tables, over 15 feet long, were filled with sugary delights.
Granted, there were a few slices of cake and a couple of pies left at the end of the day, but even then I saw commitment. Jessica’s aunt and uncle, Randy and Kelly, who had already donated a bunch of their own homemade cakes, purchased the remainder to treat the officers at the Pasadena Police Department Precinct. Imagine that generosity.
Committed people. Good People. Both abound at The Shrimp Boil.
Bear, our auctioneer for 24 of our 28 years, cajoles folks in the crowd to up their bids. Sometimes he gets downright personal, pointing to someone in the crowd and in a loud voice saying, “You KNOW you can afford another hundred dollars!” or warning another, “You’ll be REALLY sorry tomorrow if you don’t raise that paddle!” No one complains. They know Bear and he knows them. No wonder he raises so much money for us.
Most of the Live Auction items and a whole bunch of the Silent Auction items were donated by our employees. Departments work together, buying items to create amazing baskets and one of a kind gift packages. The Business Office pulled together a gorgeous and well stocked wine stand, complete with a wine cooler, gifted by ‘outsiders’ Margie, a previous employee, and Hazel, another volunteer.
From the Imaging Department came the latest in ‘must haves’ for pet owners, an automated Pet Feeder with a built in camera that allows the owner to see, talk to and feed his or her pet throughout the day. (What will they think of next?) Tara, our intern from the year before, made the winning bid on that one. She must really love her new puppy!
I’m always touched by how many employees recruit family members. In Mobile Mammography, Aurora’s brother-in-law built and donated a huge wooden cooler, also well stocked and adorned in red, white and blue. Equally as impressive, a huge metal fire pit was built and donated by R.D. while Trina joked, “We still don’t even have one for our place.” Those donations took time to make.
That list of donations from the staff is long. They understand. They know that every basket, every handmade item, means another dollar raised and another life that we could save.
Of course, employees also make up about half of the crew needed for the day. It takes a lot of hands to cover ten different stations, from drinks to merchandise to dessert sales to raffles to the food line to the Kid’s Zone. We need them all and would be lost without them.
There would be no Shrimp Boil without the cooks led by Mark. This year their new aprons sported a name change: The Rose Cooking Team. Mark and I debate over how long his team has been cooking for us. He says 15 years, I say 17. (I’m right; I have the photos to prove it.) They come early, sit outside in the heat and keep a close eye on the rows of pots filled with boiling water. Mark jealously guards his recipe that flavors over 1,000 pounds of shrimp, potatoes and corn. He won’t even let us purchase the spices for it. He seldom comes out front to let us thank or recognize him, or his team. It’s a cook’s thing, he says. Committed, I say.
Folks stop me to tell me how much they enjoy the GREAT band. The Slags have played for us for years. People love their music and it shows. Folks get up to dance in between the tables and some grumble when the music stops for a well-earned break or the Auction. Few realize that at the end of our event, the Slags will have to race to get to their next gig that starts at 9 P.M. Still, they played one last request. It was already 8 P.M. They are among the Committed.
Tiffany, a previous volunteer and current employee, was one of many that day who commented on how much we’ve grown. She remembered the smaller community center we used before and how it wasn’t that long ago when we moved to the Convention Center. At first, it seemed huge and our crowd only filled up half of the room.
Looking around at the wall-to-wall tables, she announced, “You’ll need to find a bigger place soon. How about Reliant Stadium?”
“Yes. How about the Stadium? I’d like that.” I smiled.
There were so many profound and generous moments that happened during those four short hours, I could never share them all.
There was Bonnie who won the 50-50 game. When she came up to the stage to claim her prize, she handed the envelope back to me. All of the $835 ‘winnings’ donated back. That’s huge.
This year we didn’t have a quilt to auction off. One of our great supporters who Bear calls ‘Sunshine’ took me aside to say that if we didn’t have one next year, he’d bring his back.
“You need a quilt,” he advised.
Marian, who had lost a dear friend that morning in a freak accident, stood on stage telling her story. I could see the grief on her face, knew her heart was heavy and yet she was there. The Rose had saved her life when she was diagnosed and uninsured. She was so grateful that she founded Jump for The Rose, an annual skydiving event that has now raised over $100,000. I watched her standing by Bear as he auctioned off a Tandem Skydive Jump that brought in an amazing $2,500.
Our event always begins by recognizing breast cancer survivors. We asked them to come to the front so we could adorn them with pink leis. They lined up, at one point two deep, filling up and spilling beyond the entire area in front of the stage. There were so many more women than in the past, I lost count at 40. Most I knew well. All were beautiful.
Before delivering the blessing, Rev. John choked up a bit when he said, “This time last year my wife was diagnosed.” He smiled down at her. “But now she’s cancer free.”
Each woman has a different story, each loved by someone. They all share being the reason The Rose exists; the reason this annual Shrimp Boil is so important.
At the end of the day, three very young children, one girl about five and two boys who couldn’t have been more than 4 years old, braved the stage to join in the band’s last song. They danced with excited abandon, powerhouses of energy, and all looked so tiny framed by the guitarist and lead singer. For a brief moment, a cloud passed over me, wondering if 30 years from now that little girl would be lining up in front of a stage. No, surely by then it will be different. I quickly chased the thought away.
Today was about celebration.
Today was about hundreds of people coming together to help hundreds of other human beings.
Today was about generosity and hope and good, COMMITTED people.