Men decided to take a pass on the party, which was no doubt for the best.

Known as Purses with Purpose, the fifth annual fundraiser for the Ronald McDonald House offered a brilliant excuse to ditch work and spend the afternoon bidding on handbags and scoping out fashion. Which explains why there were no guys among the more than 300 guests who filled the ballroom at The Woodlands Club in Falmouth on Thursday.

The party began with a round of competitive bidding in a silent auction featuring 260 lots of fabulous handbags, jewelry and accessories. Bags in the silent auction came in all shapes, sizes and colors, and included pieces from Coach, Cole Haan, Mary Frances, AU, Bass and Miche.

A seated luncheon with a live auction and a fashion show followed.

“I need another bag like I need a hole in the head,” Christine Mullen of Freeport told me with a laugh. But that didn’t stop her from bidding on an orange Cole Haan purse.

The reason she couldn’t resist was explained succinctly by Paula Dalton-Gove when she said, “Today is about want, not need.”

Dalton-Gove, who volunteers at the Ronald McDonald House, came to the party with her friend Stacy Gile. I had the pleasure of sitting with both of them during lunch.

This inherent tension between want and need is what prompted a number of women to confide they were glad their husbands weren’t there to see them sip wine and bid high on handbags. Because just as women don’t understand why guys need a garage full of tools, it will remain forever a mystery to men as to why we ladies like to stock our closets with an abundance of handbags.

Pina Raia of Portland has attended the party all five years and has never gone home empty-handed. This year she brought along her granddaughter, Alexia Fornaro.

“It’s a wonderful thing they’re doing,” Raia said. “It’s a good cause.”

As a result of the parties, she says she now has quite the “collection of bags.”

Another Purses with Purpose regular is Denise Cole of Gorham.

She co-founded the popular D. Cole Jewelers in the Old Port with her husband, Dean Cole, but she wisely left him to tend to business while she and daughter Emily Cole shopped for pocketbooks.

“It’s like our girls’ day out,” Denise Cole said. “Then we go back to work.”

Another group skipping work for the party came from Gorham Savings Bank. Distinguished by their coordinated black suits and matching scarves of blue, green and red, these women told me they refer to themselves as the Gorham Savings Divas. They admitted there was no way a clique of self-styled divas could pass up an event like this.

“The license plate one is cracking me up,” said Katherine Damon, one of the Gorham Savings Divas, in reference to an eye-catching bag crafted from Maine license plates. It was donated by Sen. Susan Collins.

When the handbag bidding ended, we all filed onto the tented porch for a light meal.

Maine’s Funniest Mom Karen Morgan kept us all laughing through the lunch and the live auction with stories about naked 5Ks and moms who lie about the tooth fairy.

The fashion show gave us a glimpse of a number of gorgeous looks for spring and summer from Simply You, L.L. Bean’s Signature line, Co-Op Freeport and RiceandBeansVintage.com. The models’ accessories came courtesy of 3 femmes and their hair and makeup was done by Bei Capelli.

The Gucci bag donated by actress Kelly Preston was the purse that sold for the most money, fetching $600 when the hammer fell in the live auction.

In addition to Dalton-Gove and Giles, I had the honor of enjoying lunch with a number of lovely women. They included Meredith Strang Burgess, who is one of the founders of the organization, Jennifer Dimond, who recently joined the board, Mary Bertolet, who is the board president, Linda Gibbs, whose 85-year-old mother, Louise Currier, modeled in the fashion show, and Charlene Strang, who was the high bidder on a catered brunch by chef James Audiffred.

“I bought the same brunch two years ago,” Strang said. “They did an excellent job.”

Each round table was graced by a floral centerpiece adorned with white towels, which the second graders of Lunt School in Falmouth donated for use in the Ronald McDonald House. The Portland house provides a home-away-from-home for families with children in the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital at Maine Medical Center. Their stays can stretch from a couple days to almost a year.

“We have over 300 volunteers who help us with the house,” Bertolet said. “There are some houses in the country that have almost no volunteers.”

And as the party that raised more than $40,000 proved, not only are local people generous with their time, they’re generous with their wallets. Particularly when purses are involved. 

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at:

akamila@pressherald.com