OMAHA, Neb. – Measure and mix, butter and bake, wrap and repeat. What started as a home-based effort to raise money for a local hospital has grown into a giant fruitcake-baking operation that now hopes to reach customers across the country.
For the next few weeks, more than 100 adult and teen volunteers with Alegent Health Midlands Hospital Auxiliary will dedicate up to 12 hours a day, two days a week, baking the hospital’s gourmet fruitcakes. It’s their biggest fundraising push of the year; by Christmas, they will have spent approximately 1,500 hours making and selling more than 2,500 cakes.
Karen Olson has been a part of this assembly line with a heart since the day it started 25 years ago. Back then, she signed on to bake the cakes from home. Auxiliary volunteers used Olson and two of her neighbors’ kitchens to whip up about 100 cakes a day. “I still found dough on my cupboards, when we moved a couple of years ago,” noted Olson.
Through the years, Olson has seen the operation grow into the intricate process it is today and she’s been fighting fruitcake’s bum rap the whole way. “For as many years as we’ve been doing this, there are people who will say they don’t like fruitcake,” said Olson. “But we encourage them to try it and almost every last one of them comes back to tell us they’re now fruitcake fans.”
The distinctive recipe has been key to the fundraiser’s continued success. Found in a magazine in the 1970s, Rosemary Rubin perfected the recipe by making a few key adjustments – which included cutting out the citron, those bitter green chunks that play a pivotal role in turning people off of fruitcake. Last Christmas, Wall Street Journal Staff writer Susan Warren introduced the unique cakes to the rest of the country, writing, “[they are] so packed with pecans that they taste more like a candy bar.”
The article was printed too close to Christmas to boost sales for the season, but Carol Maguire, Operations Director for Customer Relations at Midlands Hospital hopes they will see the response this year. “It also really raised the volunteers’ morale when they started getting calls from friends or relatives who saw it published in a paper in their hometown,” said Maguire.
The Auxiliary staff and volunteers will put the fruitcake funds towards the expansion of services at Midlands Hospital. The Auxiliary Board will make the ultimate decision as to which department will benefit from the sales. In 2006, the Auxiliary donated more than $81,000 to Cardiovascular Services.
Midlands Hospital is in the process of a $46 million expansion that will nearly double the size of the emergency department, add clinic space, enhance the intensive care unit and convert all patient rooms to private patient and family space. The project is expected to be complete by fall of next year.
About Alegent Health:
Alegent Health is the largest not-for-profit, faith-based healthcare system in Nebraska and southwestern Iowa with nine acute care hospitals, more than 100 sites of service, over 1,300 physicians on its medical staff and roughly 9,000 employees. Alegent Health is ranked first in the country in quality and patient satisfaction according to the Network for Regional healthcare Improvement (NRHI). That exceptional commitment to providing patient focused care for the body, mind and spirit of every person keeps Alegent Health faithful to its Mission, which was inspired by its sponsors, Catholic Health Initiatives and Immanuel Health Systems. At Alegent Health, patients and their families find a continuum of care, from women's and children's services, primary care, wellness counseling, and senior care to cardiovascular services, orthopaedics, oncology, physical rehabilitation and behavioral health. Alegent Health is online at www.alegent.com.
About Midlands Health Auxiliary:
The Midlands Hospital Auxiliary is made up of 170-members of all ages who annually provide 20,000 hours of service volunteering in various areas including the gift shop, welcome center and additional support where needed. The Auxiliary earns fundraising dollars from gift shop sales and annual holiday fruitcake. Those funds benefit the expansion of services at Midlands Hospital.