You Gotta Have Friends

Senior group raises money through handiwork

By Jessica Laskey
May 2021

Mary Alice Lewis knows what a difference a handmade item can make to someone in need.

Since 2015, Lewis and a group of fellow residents at the River’s Edge senior community off Fair Oaks Boulevard have raised money for Loaves & Fishes’ Mustard Seed School through the sale of handmade goods. They have raised more than $20,000 for the school, which provides free Montessori education and a safe space for homeless children ages 3–15.

“Mary Alice and the volunteers at River’s Edge have been supporting the children at Mustard Seed for years,” school director Casey Knittel says. “It’s wonderful to have their help because they are always so careful to make sure they understand exactly what our school needs. They have helped with everything from providing Valentine’s cards to buying Montessori materials for our classrooms to renovating our front office.”

The volunteer group was brought together by Lewis’ friend Judy Cohen, “an absolutely brilliant woman who wanted to collect a group of creative ladies—no one younger than 80—with the goal of making things for the school,” Lewis says. “Everything had to be something we had personally crafted.”

The women initially sold items in a space at River’s Edge named Charlotte’s Gallery (after Cohen’s mother), but the group and gallery eventually changed its name to Friends of Mustard Seed to clarify the purpose. Pre-pandemic, the group hosted three craft shows a year to sell everything from handmade frames to crocheted items, and put the earnings toward various projects at the school.

“Each show seemed to produce more and more money,” Lewis says. “People are extremely generous—if we’re selling something for $10, they’ll give us $20 and say, ‘Keep the change.’”

Though the pandemic put shows on hold for the better part of a year, Friends held a craft fair in March featuring facemasks, notecards, vests, door wreaths and holiday decorations. Lewis proudly reports the show brought in more than $1,200.

“It has us all feeling wonderful to have been able to make some very nice additions to a very wonderful charity,” Lewis says. “There are a lot of charities out there, but Mustard Seed feels like one of the more worthwhile. It hits home for all of us grandparents.” Lewis herself has 11 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

When not crafting creations to sell, Lewis and other group members stay involved in seasonal activities at River’s Edge, including Irish poetry reading (and green beer drinking) for St. Patrick’s Day, an egg hunt and reading of “The Velveteen Rabbit” for Easter and other performances with a troupe that’s dubbed itself the River’s Edge Players. Lewis says they partake in “anything we can do to uplift spirits,” particularly during the pandemic.

For Knittel, Friends of Mustard Seed definitely lifts her spirits—and then some. “Caring community members like Mary Alice literally make running our school possible,” she says.

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Jessica Laskey can be reached at Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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