Soroptimist International of Ashland (SIA) and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) have been community partners for 68 years. Our work together has been in the area of audience services, namely renting pillows and blankets to patrons in the Allen Elizabethan Theatre. Over these many years, both organizations have grown and prospered together in ways that none of us could have ever imagined.

The original creative and industrious women who chartered SIA in 1946 opened the OSF pillow concession in 1949 with 50 pillows. They rented pillows to patrons for 25 cents each as a way to raise funds in support of our mission. Profits for the first season were $28. In 1956 we added blankets to our rental inventory.

Today the SIA Pillow and Blanket Rental Booth is an efficient, dynamic operation open only during the OSF 114-day outdoor season. It is run almost entirely by volunteers. Fifty-one club members spent a total of 880 hours managing and staffing the booth in 2016. Volunteer positions include two co-coordinators, 10 monthly chairpersons and a scheduling person. Also, two club members staff the Pillow Booth each evening and up to 12 others ensure that the inventory is laundered on schedule. In addition, several OSF employees are paid by SIA to collect, fold and dry inventory on a daily basis, as needed.

After the season is over, 100 percent of our Pillow Booth net revenue (now in the many thousands of dollars) is used to advance our Soroptimist mission: “To improve the lives of women and girls through programs leading to social and economic empowerment” and fulfill our vision that “Women and girls have the resources and opportunities to reach their full potential and live their dreams.”

We do this by using 50 percent of the funds raised to support and recognize the academic, vocational and athletic achievements of local women and girls and by donating 50 percent of the funds to support women in the OSF Fair Program. The FAIR Program is “a professional development program that provides participants with an advanced fellowship, assistantship, internship, or resident opportunity to learn best practices across all administration, artistic, design, and production disciplines within a Tony Award winning theater environment” (OSF website, 2017). And all of this is made possible by our 68-year community partnership with OSF and the ongoing enthusiastic support of our OSF patrons.

Just a few weeks ago, after the conclusion of the 2016 OSF season, several SIA and OSF leaders sat down to collaborate on how to continue to enhance the quality of the theater experience for OSF patrons through friendly, efficient Pillow & Blanket Rental Booth operations. We discussed the season’s successes, challenges and a few ideas for improvement. It was an excellent meeting and reinforces our appreciation for this productive and enduring partnership.

Thank you OSF for being our community partner for almost 68 years! It has been a winning combination for SIA, for OSF and for the women and girls in our community!

Soroptimist started in California in 1921 and now has over 80,000 members in 127 countries and territories. SIA has 50 members. We welcome new members interested in serving the community, while having fun! Weekly meetings are on Wednesdays from 12-1pm at a local restaurant. For more information, visit our website at www.soroptimistrv.org/siashland.html or call Robbin at 541-326-6597.

Joy Dobson Way is chairperson of the Soroptimist Public Awareness Committee.