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French Market one highlight of WITAN’s 70 years

2/14/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

WITAN members, shown from left, Cheryl Dunphy, Tracie Baumgardner and Ginger Marchetta are shown at a previous French Market event. This year’s fundraiser, featuring more than 40 artisans and crafters, food and raffles, will take place Feb. 22-23 at Todaro’s Party Center.
Photo courtesy of WITAN
GREATER AKRON — For 70 years, women involved in WITAN have been making a difference for those in need in Akron.

The organization, which is gearing up for its 36th annual French Market artisan sale Feb. 22-23, was founded in 1943 by seven Akron women. Longtime member Beth Fink, of Granger, said the group’s founders named it after the shortened form of an Anglo-Saxon word meaning a group of carefully selected leaders operating under democratic rule.

“Those seven women, back in 1943, something triggered their recognition of some needs that weren’t being met for people less fortunate,” Fink said. “That still happens today, so it’s the same mission from 1943 on. We fund special needs in the community and we alert and educate our members as to civic responsibility.”

In 2002, the members of WITAN incorporated the acronym Women In Touch With Akron’s Needs into its name to help define the purpose of the organization and its commitment to the community.

Active members today are a diverse group ranging from their early 20s to 70s, Fink said. Members are required to fulfill at least 30 hours of volunteering in a year.

“We come from all walks of life and all ages,” Fink said. “One thing that holds us all together is we see a need to help folks not as fortunate as we are in life.”

Over the years, the group’s contributions have been across a variety of local causes. Fink said the group has contributed to Habitat for Humanity, Pregnancy Care, the Battered Women’s Shelter, the Akron Symphony Orchestra and the Akron Zoo. WITAN also helped support the Ronald McDonald House with seed money in its early years, she added.

“It runs the gamut between health issues and needs and artistic needs, spread over a big menu,” Fink said. “We try to balance it.”

In its 70-year history, the group has provided more than $1.2 million in funding and 3 million hours of service to Akron area organizations, she added.

In recent years, WITAN has placed greater emphasis on helping those in need of the basic necessities.

“What we have seen lately is there are so many people without beds, without coats, without food, so we have funded Good Neighbors, the food banks and a lot of churches that have soup kitchens to feed the hungry,” Fink said. “We’ve also helped the [Summit County Children Services] Beds for Kids program. Some of these kids are right at the cusp of being pulled into foster care because they sleep on the couch or floors or with adults.”

Fink said WITAN has endured and stayed true to its mission because of the dedication of its members.

“We work quietly behind the scenes,” she said. “We don’t seek publicity. We own no property and have no employees. We get together and see the need. It thrills me every year to see these women come together and come up with ideas and problem solve. It’s exciting, and we’re friends.”

WITAN members celebrated the group’s anniversary at their annual WOW! Gala Feb. 2. That event, which grew from a simple cocktail party, has turned into one of the group’s biggest fundraisers.

The French Market is also one of WITAN’s signature events, helping it raise money while providing two days of shopping from a select group of 48 artisans.

“It’s a great way to spend a nice morning or afternoon,” Fink said.

The event started in 1978 at St. Paul Episcopal Church in West Akron but later moved to Todaro’s Party Center in the Merriman Valley to accommodate more artists, she added.

In addition to carved wooden bowls, dried floral decor, jewelry, woven goods, handmade toys, children’s clothing and hand-painted clothing for women, the French Market also features a raffle and lunch created by WITAN members.

“We’ll have tomato bisque soup, tuna croissants, turkey wraps, fresh baked cookies, fresh fruit and hot dogs,” Fink said.

In addition, the event is famous for its selection of blooming hyacinths and daffodils.

The French Market will take place Feb. 22 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Feb. 23 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Todaro’s, 1820 Akron-Peninsula Road. Admission is $6.

Fink said WITAN is always seeking new members.

“We’re kind of a quiet little group, but we’re always looking for members who want to meet folks and work hard for the good of others,” she said.

For more information on WITAN, go to www.witaninfo.org or call 330-376-6668.

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