Helping seniors: It’s in the bag

Tracy Haun OwensGet Up & Go, West Knox

Almost everyone has a cause that tugs at the heartstrings. For some people, it’s children in need; for others, it’s our four-legged friends. For Mobile Meals volunteer Julie Uden, it’s the elderly. She is determined to do all she can for homebound seniors as they try to remain independent as long as they can, often while battling loneliness or health issues.


Accessorizing for good: In its fifth year, Power of the Purse, a fundraiser for Mobile Meals, brings women together to shop gently used and new handbags, with all proceeds going to the charity.

Uden is one of the forces behind Power of the Purse, a fundraiser for CAC Mobile Meals. Now in its fifth year, the event brings people together to shop a selection of gently used and new handbags that have been donated by the community. Uden was the original handbag gatherer the first year, and she also secured the event space at Rothchild Conference Center, where it is still held.

Every dollar raised by the event goes directly to CAC Mobile Meals, helping the organization provide food to homebound seniors without regard to income. The organization serves more than 1,600 people in every area of the county, using more than 100 volunteers a day to do so. Meals are delivered on Thanksgiving and on Christmas, along with presents.

Shelly Woodrick is senior nutrition volunteer coordinator at Knoxville-Knox County CAC Office on Aging. Woodrick says that as the amount received from traditional funding sources is declining, the number of seniors who need services from Mobile Meals is growing.

She says, “Julie has been super involved since the inception of the Power of the Purse fundraiser. When it was just a crazy idea, she took it and ran with it, turning it into a reality. The event grows each year and has become more important to our program than ever.”

Maximum turnout at the 2018 Power of the Purse event at Rothchild Conference Center

Last year, tickets for the event sold out early.

“That first year we were afraid we couldn’t get 200 people, and now we’re at maximum capacity,” Uden says.

Uden and her family moved to Knoxville from Michigan in 2010. She had volunteered for Meals on Wheels in Michigan and made finding a similar program here a priority.

“We did it as a family,” Uden says of her family’s first delivery. She and her husband took along their kids, “… so they could experience what it is to be part of a community.”

Although she doesn’t have a regular delivery gig right now, she says that when she did, “You form a bond with those folks,” asking them about their days, enjoying their family news, greeting their pets by name.

“For the elderly, the sense of still being independent but having that interaction is so important,” Uden says.

While Power of the Purse raises much-needed funds, it also raises friends. Woodrick says it’s a great opportunity to gather community support. An attendee might come for a snazzy new handbag but leave with a new cause.

“We see new volunteers as well as a spike in donations and general interest,” Woodrick says.

“It’s just a great evening,” says Uden.

Power of the Purse 2019 will take place Thursday, Sept. 19, at Rothchild Conference Center (Susan Rothchild is a longtime supporter). Lori Tucker of WATE is the master of ceremonies, and luxe handbag designer Patricia Nash is the presenting sponsor. Tickets go on sale Monday, July 15, and the organization will accept handbags and jewelry through Wednesday, Sept. 4. For donation sites, or to find out how you can organize a drive at your business or community, visit the event’s Facebook page.

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