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Dorcas celebrates 100 years of giving

The Dorcas Society is celebrating its 100th anniversary since its founding as the first philanthropic society in Dickinson during March of 1909.

The organization's purpose was to help families in need with special emphasis on the care of children.

The name of Dorcas is taken from Acts of the Apostles Chapter 9 verse 36-41: "And in Joppe there was a certain disciple named Tabitha which by interpretation is called Dorcas, a woman doing good works and alms deeds."

Members of the Dorcas Society met Wednesday at the home of Sue Moore to go through scrapbooks dating back 100 years.

The members learned that during World War I, Dorcas cooperated with Red Cross and groups engaged in war work. During the 1918-19 influenza epidemic, families were furnished with clothing, bedding, food and coal.

In 1922, Dorcas introduced a milk program for children in the public schools. Financial aid from other clubs and lodges made this project possible.

Throughout the Depression years, demands were put upon Dorcas to help alleviate hardships of families suffering with job loss or illness. One added effort was the sale of Christmas Seals to benefit the North Dakota Anti-Tuberculosis Association.

Today, the 27 women assist families and single parents with children. Baskets of food are provided at Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.

Dorcas receives referrals from Stark County Social Services, teachers and pastors. Each member is assigned to one or two families in need.

One of the challenges is trying to decide which families are most in need, said member Dorathy Schmidt.

"Mostly it's for families with children," added member Maripat Ficek.

"Each member gets a chance to get into the family's homes, which I don't think any other organization can say that," said Schmidt. "It isn't just a name. We actually go and visit with them in their home and do our evaluation one to one."

Why did the Dorcas Society survive 100 years when other groups have not?

"Because it's person to person, it's local families helping other local families. You don't have go through any part of the beaurocratic red tape," said member Gail Ebeltoft.

"Every single penny that comes in goes out," said Schmidt. "I think the original goal has still been kept in play."

"We started before there was any state or local aid. Once those programs came in, Dorcas found a way to work with them," said Ebeltoft.

In addition to the milk program, member Helen Hallowell referenced when Dorcas Society gave pigs to families. One archive photo shows a partnership with the Elks in 1931 when a truck was filled with 32 hogs, 60 bushels of potatoes, coffee and sugar for distribution to area families.

In another partnership with the First National Bank, the bank purchased dolls that members dressed as gifts for little girls in the 1960s, said Moore.

In addition to membership dues, the society hosted bazaars and dances. They also ran lunch stands at the county fairs, said Moore.

In addition to food, those early Christmas baskets were packed with tobacco and cigarettes for men, handkerchiefs and bedroom slippers for women and toys and books for the children, she added.

In addition to membership dues, fall benefit and spring wine taster, Dorcas receives assistance from the students and staff at Trinity High School. In 1967, the student council started the Golden Mass and chose Dorcas as its benefit society. It allowed Dorcas to provide gift baskets with a longer shelf life -- canned fruits and vegetables, cereals and paper goods, said Ebeltoft.

"One of the most amazing things for all the members is the enthusiasm children have for opening those canned goods and cereal boxes. They enjoy that as much as the gift they get," she said.

Rewards come with delivery of the boxes.

Ficek referenced one little boy who picked up and hugged a bag of apples because he was so happy.

Schmidt added, "At the January meeting, it's very rare that tears aren't shed, because the stories are so touching, so heart-breaking."

"Through assistance, they are able to get back on their feet and a few years later they are calling, 'I'd like to help you,'" said Ebeltof.

The membership includes: Marie Arnold, Patt Biel, Kathy Bren, Jude Bullinger, Felice Demesy, Gail Ebeltoft, Maripat Ficek, Helen Hallowell, Carol Herauf, Wava Howe, Juanita Koppinger, Nancy Krieg, Betty Larsen, Opal Larsne, Sue Moore, Sandy Moos, Irene Olin, Kathy Olin, Velma Olin, Lois Price, Georgiann Schmalenberger, Dorathy Schmidt, Judi Schnell, Jan Stromsborg, Roxanne Tucker, Brenda Fong and Mary Peters.