This column in Attraction, by Amelia Blades Steward, visits the faces of those who have benefited from the generous and tireless work of the nonprofits on the Mid Shore or are one of the organizations giving back in unique ways to better our world. She has been a freelance writer in our community for over 20 years and offers a glimpse into the lives of residents on the Mid Shore whom she has met along the way.
If nothing else, the pandemic has taught us that there are people in need around us who often go unnoticed when the times get tough. In November 1834, a group of visionary women in Easton established the Union Dorcas Society of Easton “with a desire to alleviate the sufferings and contribute to the comfort of the poor.” After 178 years, the organization is still operating under the original Constitution and By-Laws and continues to improve the lives of individuals and families throughout Talbot County.
The name Dorcas comes from the Bible. Dorcas lived in Joppa, a part of the Mediterranean, 34 miles northwest of Jerusalem. From her home, she saw the destitute people in her community and was stirred to help them by making clothing for them and ministering to their needs. She was “full of good works and almsdeeds” (Acts 9:36-42) and people who wore her garments remembered her friendship and that they felt loved. Dorcas was so loved and respected by her peers that when she became ill and died, St. Peter was summoned to heal her and raise her from the dead.
When the organization began, the women conducted annual door-to-door solicitation of funds from local people to help the needy. They made clothes and gathered food and gave such aid as was needed.
According to Patti Phillips, current president of the Union Dorcas Society, “Today, we don’t solicit door-to-door but exist on legacies, memorials, and other donations. We do our work quickly and quietly, without bureaucratic red tape.”
The organization gives away around $5,000 or more a year, helping individuals and families pay for utilities, rent, food, clothing, medical and dental bills, transportation, or a night’s lodging, but no money is given outright, and each case is investigated by a manager. Donations have also been given to such charities as the CarePacks of Talbot County and Talbot Goes Purple Program, as well as regular contributions to the Patient Fund at the Cancer Center at the University of Maryland Shore Regional Health. During the holidays, the group supports families identified by the Talbot County Health Department as having a need.
The Union Dorcas Society membership is limited to 16, four officers, and 12 managers. Each manager is responsible for one month of the year and investigates requests before relief is given. New members are added as members pass away or resign. Reports are regularly given to the board. All records from the beginning of the organization are on microfilm and are held in the Maryland Room of the Talbot County Free Library in Easton.
The society receives referrals from the Red Cross, The Neighborhood Service Center, The Health Department, The Department of Social Services, The Talbot Association of Clergy and Laity, and St. Vincent DePaul for people who are struggling with a particular need.
Although Dorcas Societies flourished in the 1800s around the globe, there are still organizations serving communities around the world today, including those helping individuals and families affected by the war in Ukraine.
“We are the oldest, all women, on-going charitable organization in the State of Maryland, and maybe even the country,” Patti adds.
Patti, who has been a member of the group since her neighbor encouraged her to join in 1996, is not the longest-standing member of the group. That accolade goes to Petey Fox who joined the group in 1979.
“Originally, members came to the group through other family members’ involvement. That still happens today, but we also find interested people by word-of-mouth,” states Patti.
One of the organization’s sacred traditions is for its members to hold an arch of red roses for the coffin to go through at the funerals of members who have passed away.
“This organization offers me personally the ability in a small way to help the community. It’s amazing because participating makes us all more mindful of the poverty in this community. We try and help the people who need it,” states Patti.
Current members of the Union Dorcas Society include Patti Phillips, President; Sue Pierce, Vice President; Susan Haddaway, Secretary; and Katy Stafford, Treasurer. Managers include Nancy Anthony; Petey Fox; Claudia Knox; Susan Lane; Nancy Matthews; Carol Murphy; Sue Newnam; Joyce Norris; Linda Raughley; Susan DuPont Snyder; Nancy Strickland; and Lisa Westphal.
The Union Dorcas Society welcomes donations to its efforts in the community. The public can donate to the organization by sending a check to Union Dorcas Society, c/o Patti Phillips, 27442 Rest Circle, Easton, Maryland 21601.