Fashion show brings community together to help combat poverty in Anderson

Apr. 28—ANDERSON — It may not have been a runway in New York City, but the gymnasium at Mercy Road Church served dozens of models well Saturday in an effort to help a local nonprofit.

The Walk In Your Purpose Fashion Show, its organizers said, served a two-fold purpose, providing a platform for up-and-coming fashion designers to showcase their latest work; and bringing attention to the needs and programming of The Mercy Table, an Anderson-based community services organization.

"You think fashion, you think modeling, you think it's just about vanity and pretty clothes, but it's actually a community of people coming together to support one another in a family-oriented way," said Sherrie Gearheart, who served as an emcee for the event.

"The best part is raising money for the organization and hearing those testimonies."

Segments of the fashion show, which attracted a crowd of about 100, were separated by testimonials from people who, with resources from Mercy Table, have overcome addiction-driven homelessness and other trials to lead productive lives with healthy support systems around them.

Organizer Yolanda Wilkins said that, while Mercy Table officials were grateful for monetary donations from the fashion show, they were equally appreciative that clothing from the charity's five-and-dime store was worn by some of the models.

"The money is great, but the real need is donation of clothes," Wilkins said. "Without clothing, they cannot continue to help those that have been in those (harmful) situations.

"You can hand anybody $20," she added, "but that's not going to keep them from going back to their situation because they have no clothes."

Wilkins recruited Gearhart, the CEO of a talent agency that provides coaching to young models and workshops emphasizing diversity in the fashion industry, to staff Saturday's show. Gearheart responded by booking more than 60 models to wear dozens of outfits.

"Because (Wilkins) has such a pure heart of gold and she's always there for everybody, no one hesitated," Gearheart said. "Everybody jumped on board to say, 'What can I do to support you?'"

Wilkins, a model and motivational speaker, met Jennifer Beaumont, Mercy Table's executive director, at a community function. A former Mercy Table client, Wilkins said she was interested in starting an event to bring more attention to the organization's mission.

"She had been doing modeling, so we got together and thought a fashion show fundraiser would be a great way to get the modeling community as well as the Mercy Table's name out to the community," Beaumont said.

The event also featured vendors, a silent auction and refreshments. Wilkins said she hopes to make it an annual show that will bring more community members together in support.

"This is supposed to be copied," Beaumont said. "This is the way you're supposed to treat people. You want to treat people like you would hope to be treated in whatever situation."

Follow Andy Knight on Twitter @Andrew_J_Knight, or call 765-640-4809.