In December, the Zonta Club of Sanibel-Captiva made a major contribution to a merry Christmas for the children served by the Dr. Ella Piper Center in the Dunbar area of Fort Myers. Every year at Christmas since 1915, the children of the area have been treated to a visit with Santa Claus and surprise gifts donated by caring individuals and businesses.
Zonta was already connected with the Dr. Ella Piper Center, having provided financial support for several years through grants for the center’s foster grandparents program that brings together children and seniors for mutual benefit. Visit www.drpipercenter.org for information.
Dr. Ella Mae Piper was a well-known civic worker and businesswoman, who established the first chiropodist’s office and beauty parlor in Fort Myers over 100 years ago. Born in Georgia in 1884, she graduated from Spellman College and attended chiropody college in New York, working in the city before joining her mother, Sarah Williams, in a very segregated Fort Myers in 1916. Piper’s home and business became the center for community support for needy children in Dunbar. In 1915, Williams had organized the first annual Christmas party and toy drive for local children; when her mother died in 1926, Dr. Piper took it over, and it has continued uninterrupted ever since. When she died in 1954, she willed her property to the City of Fort Myers “for the benefit of young children and senior citizens.”
This year, Zonta members transported carloads of donated gifts to the Center prior to the Christmas celebration. Some Zontians brought toys to the mid-December meeting, and 11 members volunteered for a toy organizing event December 18, where they filled goodie bags and staged a mountain of stuffed animals from which the children could choose. The donations included ten bicycles, all from Zonta members and friends.
This past Christmas marked the 107th toy drive and party, and the first supported by the Zonta club as a service project. On Christmas morning, a small group of Zontians set off before dawn to help as more than 300 children received their gifts from Santa.
Erika Steiner, Pam Eccles and Nancy Dreher, who attended the Christmas Day visit, commented: “The total joy expressed by children leaving with toys they were able to choose themselves, and especially those lucky enough to win bicycles, was heartwarming. We all but forgot that very early start! It was so rewarding for us all, and a wonderful way to experience the holiday.”
The Zonta Club of Sanibel-Captiva is a service organization of professional women working together to provide hands-on assistance, advocacy and funds to empower women and girls on the islands, in Lee County and around the world through Zonta International. Visit www.ZontaSanCap.org, follow Zonta Sanibel-Captiva on Facebook and “like” the club (@zontasancap) on Instagram.