Women Helping Women

Penny Coles

Niagara Advance

Mary Jane Ciurluni’s plum puddings have been much coveted by friends and relatives.

But she stopped making them 15 years ago - they were time-consuming and expensive to produce, and although she was approached to turn them into a commercial venture, she decided she really didn’t want to start a business at that stage of her life.

Besides, it would take away the personal touch.

However, her involvement last year in helping to organize a fundraiser for Gillian’s Place has brought her plum-pudding skills out of retirement.

Almost 30 years ago, Ciurluni began making plum pudding for her stepfather, Charlie Campbell. She wanted to do something special for him, and he loved plum pudding. But she couldn’t make just one, and she soon had 20 to 30 people asking for them each year. She eventually began selling them for $10 a pound, and Campbell was delighted to have a supply to last him all year.

“It’s an awful lot of work. You start in September, add the rum or brandy and refrigerate them until Christmas,” she says.

There aren’t actually any plums in plum pudding - there might have been in medieval times - but they were long ago replaced by dried fruit, such as currents and raisins, she said - and of course, the alcohol, spices and suet.

“I really enjoyed making them, but it took up a lot of time.”

But since then, she has become friends with another woman who also has a hobby she loves - making jewelry.

Since then, she has become friends with another woman who also has a hobby she loves - making jewelry.

Karen Jantz, a St. Davids woman, decided last year she needed to do something with all of her hand-made jewelry - after giving pieces away to friends and family, she decided to organize a bazaar for Gillian’s Place.

That was at the community centre last November, and Ciurluni, who crochets scarves, helped her with the organization of it and also baked goods for a bake table.

They called it the WHOW (Women Helping Other Women) Bazaar, and although it was arranged in a hurry, they had six tables and raised more than $5,000.

For their second annual event, which they had more time to plan, they have 30 tables of vendors, some with crafts and others with bath and body products, Pampered Chef, Norwex green cleaning supplies, and a local artist bringing some of her paintings.

They also have a hot luncheon of chili or soup made by a retired executive chef - at $5 a person, all proceeds will go to Gilliian’s Place.

When Jantz decided to organize a fundraiser, she didn’t have to look very far before deciding Gillian’s Place, which provides shelter and outreach programs to abused women and children, should be the recipient of any money she could raise.

“Twenty years ago, I found myself in a similar situation so I can relate to women in need. The work of Gillian’s Place is close to my heart.”

Although she lived in “a different place and time,” she found she needed to leave an abusive relationship for her own safety and that of her teenage daughter.

She knows she was one of the lucky ones - she started a new life18 years ago, married “the nicest man I’ve ever met,” and wants to help other women who also need to start over.

Her daughter, now an adult, will help out at the bazaar, she says.

As fortunate as she was, she realizes there are many women and children who have not been able to escape their abuser, or if they have, are still living with the anguish of an abused past. Gillian’s Place has many programs to help with the healing as well as shelter for for safety and a conduit to a violence-free future, says Janzt.

“There aren’t many people in this world who don’t know somebody affected by abuse, some with very tragic endings. Gillian’s Place needs our support.”

Both women will donate 100 per cent of their proceeds to Gillian’s Place from the fundraising event, to be held at the NOTL Community Centre, 14 Anderson Lane, Nov. 21 from 10 a.m to 3 p.m.

Ciurluni has 120 pounds of plum pudding, wrapped in one-pound packages and labeled under the name of ‘Mrs. C,” with instructions for making brandy sauce to go with the pudding. She is also doing some baking for the bake table.

Each vendor has donated a prize for draws the day of the event, and instead of paying a flat fee for their table, will donate 10 per cent of their sales to Gillian’s Place.

Jantz says she is overwhelmed by the support they’ve received for their event. “Doing this gives me a a purpose, helps me feel like I’m doing something helpful, to give back. And my daughter comes to help because she understands what it’s like to be in an abusive situation, she can relate. We’re used to hearing, “but why don’t women just leave,” and it’s hard to know what to say. Abusers make sure it’s difficult, cutting off access to money and even children. It’s easy to say, but it’s not easy to do.”

The event will include the draw table, a silent auction, a lucky loony sale and a raffle for a refinished antique 48-inch pedestal table with six cane-back chairs.

There will also be a drop-off area for those who wish to bring new items for Gillian’s Place, including household start-ups,  slippers, pajamas, shoes for women and children of all ages and sizes, grocery and gas gift certificates, cleaning products, cutlery and toiletries.

For more information call Jantz at 289-296-5337 or visit the Gillian’s Place website at: for other ways to help.

For information about the event and a photo of the table and chairs to be raffled, check out WHOW Bazaar Facebook page.

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