Alcohol has often been known to heal wounds, especially wounds of the community.
As of last year, even domestic abuse programs felt the sting of statewide budget cuts, giving local nonprofits like the Walnut Avenue Women’s Center (WAWC) a reason to fight back.
Their weapon of choice? Some good old-fashioned tequila.
Felicita “Cita” Rasul, associate development director for the Women’s Center, explained why the organization is holding the March 6 event, appropriately named “Agave Agape” — Agape meaning love that is spiritual rather than sexual in nature.
“We need money to stay open. Right now we’re still furloughed on Wednesdays, so we can’t provide services on those days,” Rasul said. “My assistant director said we needed to do something like wine tasting, but she said ‘I don’t like wine, I like tequila!’”
And although tequila is famously paired with its partners in crime, salt and limes, Rasul explained that this event is all about experiencing the drink from a wine taster’s perspective.
“It’s not for doing shots or getting drunk or crazy, it’s really about tasting the tequila and enjoying it,” Rasul said. “It’s not about encouraging drinking, it’s about learning more about a drink that you already enjoy.”
This past July, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger clipped the remaining $16 million from the state’s Domestic Violence Program, causing groups like the Walnut Avenue Women’s Center to stand up and toast to the fundraising cause.
“We’ve been running on this promise of money,” Rasul said. “We’re applying for lots of grants and just working on gaining support from the community, and people have been very generous.”
Lisa Melloni, a UC Santa Cruz student and intern at the center, is one of many people putting the event together and running the center daily.
“I’ve been organizing all of the donations that have been made, and making phone calls and serving people at the event,” Melloni said. “It seems like I could learn a lot from here.”
Rasul discussed tequila’s origin from the agave plant, and the various types of tequila that will be available at the event.
“The three basics are blanco, anejo, and reposado,” she said. “Some of them are aged in whiskey barrels or bourbon barrels, so that’s where the different flavors come in. There are so many tequilas out there — they have their own nuances just like different wines, and a lot of people don’t really know that.”
Melloni is a fan of the Don Julio brand, which will be available at the tasting. She said that there will be about five companies in attendance, each serving two or three different kinds of tequila.
Rasul explained that along with tequila tasting, Agave Agape will offer wine and beer as well as Nuevo Southwest Grill catering, a silent auction and raffle prizes.
“We have a basket of Newman’s Own Organics, we have movie passes, and a lot of the local companies that have supported us are donating items as well,” Rasul said.
Rasul said that initially, the idea of a fundraiser centered on alcohol spelled trouble to the Women’s Center administrators. Recognizing the thin line they walk, the organizers are making an effort to keep the event as comfortable as possible.
“We had a lot of conversations about the appropriateness of having a tequila-tasting event, or any event including alcohol, aligned with the services we offer,” Rasul said. “The center of a lot of people’s trauma stems from alcohol abuse.”
Rasul stated that they plan to make the event as safe as possible, with car services available to take people home if they end up having too much fun.
The fundraiser’s projected 100-plus turnout helps Women’s Center staff members see the benefits of working in this environment even with a withering budget.
Melloni described the priceless feeling of helping women in the community each and every day, and said resources like the Walnut Avenue Women’s Center need as much support as possible.
“I’ve talked to some of the women that come in here. It really makes a difference in their lives,” Melloni said. “These women help them when they come in here and make them feel understood.”
And even though the fundraiser promises a good time, what it really boils down to — for Rasul and others associated with the nonprofit — is the ability to keep the Walnut Avenue Women’s Center running strong even on its shaky feet.
“Right now we are just raising money to keep the doors open and make sure that our services are available,” Rasul said. “It’s really important to support our families that we serve.”
The event will be held at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History (MAH) at the McPherson Center on Saturday, March 6. Cost is $75 per person. For more information, please call (831) 426-3062.