OKEECHOBEE — Janice Pietro is a native Floridian. She lived in Palm Beach County for the first 50 years of her life, but moved to Okeechobee in 2008 to be with her daughter and watch her grandkids grow up. She worked for the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office for 30 years and took early retirement. She started at 18 and retired at 48.
Ms. Pietro has always done charity work. Her first husband passed away from lung cancer in 1999, and she just likes helping others who are sick, she said. When she was in Palm Beach County, she was a member of teddy bear clubs. They collected teddy bears, but not just any teddy bears. They collected the special ones like Steiff and John R. Wright and other famous artists’ teddy bears. Their clubs raised money for different causes. One of the clubs was called Good Bears of the World. They raised money and sent the bears to some needy organizations. One of the charities they did was Guardians Ad Litem.
After she left the sheriff’s office, she supplemented her retirement by selling Mary Kay. She loves Mary Kay because the company is all about helping people, she said. Mary Kay has two foundations. One is to help victims of domestic violence, and one is for cancers that affect women. Martha’s House has received three grants from Mary Kay. They can get one every other year for $20,000, so they have gotten $60,000, she said. “I think it’s pretty awesome that my company has given $60,000 to Martha’s House.”
Ms. Pietro handles the Quarters for a Cause charity, but she said she did not start it. A company that is no longer together started it, she said. She started out as a vendor, and she talked to Christy Snyder, who did Avon at the time, about her concern that the charities they were trying to help were not getting much money at all from what they were doing each month. They would get a little over a hundred dollars. One month, a girl had breast cancer and the room was packed, but the girl only got a little over $200. “I asked what’s happening to all the money,” she said. She said the rental fee for the civic center ($150 for a three-hour minimum, pus $25 per additional hour for nonprofits) was eating up the revenue. “So we found a place to move it — the American Legion.” They have to pay only $25 to use their space, which covers the cost of electricity. The American Legion is an event sponsor, she said. It is unheard of to pay so little for a place like that to hold an event, she added.
For Quarters for a Cause, they always choose someone from Okeechobee who is sick, Events are only once a month. They have a waiting list, and they don’t bump anyone up no matter what, because if they do that, they might never get to some people, because someone sicker might always come along and push them back on the list, she explained. She tries not to turn anyone down.
There are three ways they raise money. They sell paddles for $2 each. You can buy more than one paddle. Each paddle has a number on it. That money goes directly to the charity (the person they are helping). The charity also gets the money from the vendors minus the $25 for the American Legion. The vendors each pay $20 to be there, and while there, they can sell their wares and/or schedule parties. They also go up and do two rounds of auctions.
Ms. Pietro usually makes up a basket of Mary Kay items. She explained how a quarter auction works. She goes forward and tells everyone she wants two quarters for the basket. If you want to bid on the basket, you put your quarters on the table and hold up your paddle. A number is chosen, and if your number (on your paddle) is called, you go home with the basket for two quarters. The charity gets all the quarters that were bid. If they pull a number, and that paddle is on the table, but the person did not put any quarters out, they would pull another number until they get a winner. Some of her baskets are worth $70, and you would win them for 50 cents, she said. The vendors can ask between one and four quarters for their items, but most ask for two.
Another way they raise money for the charities is by obtaining donated items from businesses or people around town that they then auction off during the event. If you decide to bid on an item, you have to buy tickets. You have to pay $5, and you get six tickets. Then you go to the tables where all the items being auctioned off are, and each item has a cup in front of it. If you are interested in something, you can put one ticket in or all your tickets in. At some point, a ticket will be selected, and if it is yours, you will win that item. So, you could feasibly win any prize for less than a dollar.
They have had televisions and other large items as prizes, she said.
They usually ask the attendees to wear a particular color each month, because they will do a special raffle for those wearing that color.
You can bring your own quarters or they can change your dollars for you.
Ms. Pietro works with her husband, Brian, who is also a vendor, on the fundraiser. They both go in and get everything set up, and he takes care of the food for the gathering. Usually he sells hotdogs, chips and a drink for $3. Afterward, they stay behind to clean up after everyone else has gone home.
This month, on Tuesday, Jan. 21, they are raising funds for Debbi Graves. The flier reads, ”Debbi is recovering from a brain aneurysm. Bills keep coming in as she has no insurance. The helicopter ride alone cost $57,000. Debbi is used to working hard for a living. She has manned a booth at the flea market for years, plus is a bartender at J&S Fish Camp and the Iron Eagle. It is our time to show Debbi how much Okeechobee cares. Wear blue to be in the Special Raffle provided by Janice from Mary Kay as blue is Debbi’s favorite color.”
You do not need a special invitation to attend. The doors open at 6 p.m., and the auction begins at 7. The American Legion is located at 501 S.E. Second St. Everyone is welcome. If you would like more information, check out their Facebook page — Quarters for a Cause Okeechobee.
Ms. Pietro does not restrict herself to Quarters for a Cause, but also helps with other fundraising needs when she can. She does have one rule, though. She prefers to help those who are sick. She understands that there are other reasons people need help, but she feels that is her calling, and there are only so many hours in a day.