Concert helps Filipino impoverished eat

After a recent visit to the Philippines, Stephanie Reese of Bainbridge Island knew she had to help.

The well-known singer-actress was performing at an upscale, fancy wedding. So, they didn’t need help.

She talked to Brother Mark Purugganan of Parish of the Holy Sacrifice, who helped perform the wedding. He told her how many people are desperate for food, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Reese asked him how most people were doing regarding masks and vaccinations. He kind of laughed. “No offense, but masks and vaccines — that’s a luxury afforded to countries like yours,” she quoted him as saying.

Those things cost money, and their economy is shut down. They don’t have much anyway because their jobs are low-paying, such as maids, drivers, caregivers, etc., he added.

She said they were showing up at churches in need of food. She was told it costs $2 to feed a family of four for a week. That pays for eggs and rice. “The more people give out the more show up for food,” she said.

She told Purugganan she would help. She was full of motivation and inspiration when she got back to the states. But then she felt there were too many things going on because it’s Christmas. She was going to just have her husband write a check.

But when she talked about it at church, she was told: “Are you kidding. It’s Christmas. People are in the spirit of Christmas.”

So, she decided to go ahead with her idea of having a Christmas Concert to raise money for the poor in Manila. She only had about two weeks. “I was running around like crazy,” she said.

Reese has performed at many fundraisers around the world, but this was the first time she ever put one together. She found out it’s a lot of work. Pianist Jordan Pietre had to learn 10 new songs “he’s never played before,” she said. But it was all worth it.

“It was an absolute blast,” she said. “We raised enough money we could give special Christmas Eve meals — bigger than eggs and rice.”

With the almost $5,100 raised, they plan to spend $10 per family for a meal of a can of fruit cocktail, noodles, spaghetti sauce and bread. “It sounds like very little food to us,” but to them it will be special, she said.

The concert took place at Grace Church, where she and husband Matthew Coates were married a few years ago. The church has been so supportive she knew they would be “willing to help me with my project.”

About 116 people attended, with more on Zoom locally and even more from people in Manila who were being helped. “There was a whole gym of people,” she said. There was a plan for the people in Manila to sing a Christmas song at the concert, but technology didn’t allow it. However, as a backup, a video of them singing was shown instead.

Also performing at the concert were some of her church friends, along with students she teaches voice to.

The concert had a holiday theme with songs like “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and a Christmas Medley Singalong, but it also featured songs like “Hallelujah” and “Ave Maria,” along with “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and an Oldies Medley.

The name of the concert was Gift of Giving, and every artist performed something related to gifts, of things like culture, love and hope. Performing the Gift of Friendship was another well-known singer, David Tobin, a soul, jazz, gospel and rhythm and blues performer.

”Everyone cheered because my husband didn’t know about it,” Reese said about the surprise of having their best friend there.

Reese and Tobin normally are in Germany this time of year, performing at a big UNICEF concert that features artists from Broadway to London. “But they canceled our tour. Everything got shut down in Germany.”

Reese said she’s done a “ton” of concerts around the world for groups like the United Nations, World Vision and Operation Smile.

She said she really enjoyed performing, as she hasn’t been on stage in 1½ years.

“It was the first time for me performing live … I couldn’t believe how much I missed it,” she said. She also performed a solo concert at Carnegie Hall with proceeds going to the Philippines. She sang because she believed in the cause, but didn’t produce it herself.

So she was a little afraid putting on her concert at Grace Church. “I was kind of intimidated to be honest,” she said.

But with the help of many volunteers from the church and around the island, they pulled it off.

Reese said when she performs for a corporate charity it’s not as satisfying.

“It feels real seeing the direct effect of what you’ve created,” she said. “You don’t get the feeling unless you’re there doing the work.”

She said she was missing that direct connection and didn’t even know it.

Reese went to Indiana University for classical voice, but changed to Cincinnati Conservatory for Music because she wanted to do more acting. She ended up leaving school early to take the lead role in “Miss Saigon” in Germany. She had planned to return to college, but got another role in the “Hunchback of Notre Dame” and then “The King and I” in London and never looked back.

Her mom and grandmother are from the Philippines and from them she learned about family values and sacrifice. She has been there so often that she has a producer and manager and career over in Asia as well.

But since COVID, she’s been limited in her travels. So she’s gotten very involved in her church and Arts and Humanities Bainbridge.

“It’s better than living out of a suitcase,” she said.

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