Feature Story: Mini Gems & Java

by Megan Stacey

It was twice as big – and twice as fun.

When a pair of sisters hosted the first-ever Mini Gems & Java in London last year, it was a modest in-home event with a couple dozen people. This year, they doubled their committee, and upped the ante. 


The guest list jumped from 25 to 50 people, and a few extra walk-ins snuck in. The second annual event was a great success, and raised a whopping $4,000!

In our affluent world, it’s pretty hard not to reach out to people in other countries that are in so much need.
— Alice Vangerweg

“In our affluent world, it’s pretty hard not to reach out to people in other countries that are in so much need,” said Alice Vanderweg, who hosted the 2015 Mini Gems & Java in her home near London, Ont.

 “When we do just a little wee bit, it helps them so much – and that’s so awesome.”

Alice and her sister Agnes Claus started the Mini Gems & Java tradition, and given the rousing success of their event in year two, they’re hoping to keep the momentum going.

“If we’re healthy and well, we’d like to make it an annual thing,” said Agnes.

The feedback the London committee received from guests was overwhelmingly positive.

“They love the event, the fun of it,” Agnes said.

“This is just a fun evening out. I mean who can resist jewelry? It’s fun watching them shop,” Alice added.

Pat Degelman came to the event to support her niece, who was on the organizing committee. She had great success finding treasures in the Bags & Baubles Boutique.

“I got about five different things. And if I don’t wear them, no problem - I just wanted to give some money, you know? That’s what’s important for me,” she said.

Pat said she’d certainly come to another Mini Gems & Java event.

That’s no surprise to anyone who’s been involved with Gems & Java events in the past. 

“We find so many people are repeat guests – if they come once they’ll come again, just like the main Gems & Java. They want to be there again next year,” Agnes said. 

And though putting on a Mini Gems & Java is a big undertaking, “it’s all worthwhile in the end,” Alice said. 

The sisters noted that their two new recruits made all the difference this year.

The event wouldn’t have been possible without Lisa Wedlake and Kristin Somerville, recent additions to the Mini Gems & Java committee.

“They came with so much vim and vigor, and the legwork they did was just tremendous,” Agnes said.

Clearly, that hard work paid off.

St. James Westminster Church was decked out, and the decorations struck the perfect balance of glamour and authenticity. Party favours mimicked MWAHFE’s “scribble heart” logo, and beautiful large-scale photographs of Ethiopian women and children surrounded guests.

A wonderful pianist added light and joyful tunes and the Ethiopian coffee ceremony drew dozens of interested guests.

Volunteers from Mothers with a Heart for Ethiopia staffed the Ethiopian Marketplace, selling jewelry, coffee and even debuting the newest offering, hand-knit Bears for Busajo!

But for most, the highlight of the night is hearing Shelley speak about Mothers with a Heart for Ethiopia and the projects the organization supports.

“I’m really impressed that all of the money goes towards supporting the children and the other causes,” said Kelly, another guest at the Mini Gems & Java. She gladly drove in from Waterloo to support a family member on the committee.

Kelly had another personal connection, too.

“I really wanted to come because my daughter’s best friend is adopted from Ethiopia. It’s kind of near and dear to our hearts,” she said. 

Hearing Shelley speak about the realities – and the potential – in Ethiopia at Gems & Java in Woodstock is what originally drew Alice and Agnes to the cause.

What [Shelley] saw in Ethiopia and what she experienced there just grabbed our hearts.
— Alice Vanderweg

“What she saw in Ethiopia and what she experienced there just grabbed our hearts,” said Alice.

Agnes is confident their event, including those personal words from Shelley, will have the same effect on guests. 

“We saw Shelley’s heart for these needy people. If we could do a small part to make a difference for one person or more, we were thrilled to be a part of that,” she said.

 “It’s just a privilege to help others.”