‘See the Boot. Know the Cause.’

By Lisa Leigh Connors | Photography by Shareen Davis

Karen Murdoch, the founding president of Women of Fishing Families (W.O.F.F.), started the group in 2006 with the intent to help fishermen and their families during financial emergencies. Shannon Eldredge joined W.O.F.F. in 2007 as a committee member for the Chatham Maritime Festival and joined the board of directors later that year. We recently caught up with them to discuss their organization and their 2016 goals.

Q: What inspired you to start Women of Fishing Families?
A: We found there was a missing link to direct family services, specifically for fishing families on Cape Cod. Before Women of Fishing Families was organized, there was no local community-funded organization that offered financial and emotional support for fishing families. That’s when Karen and a group of fishermen’s wives got together and started fundraising to help support the family in need. Our efforts were successful, and we organized a group to help other families during financial emergencies. We officially became a 501-C3 nonprofit organization in 2008.

Shannon Eldredge

Q: What kind of assistance do you provide?
A: Our fishing community fund provides scholarships to children of fishing families for college tuition and childcare, as well as direct financial assistance to help with medical emergencies, transitional support, and unforeseen financial burdens. We feel that it’s not our group that makes a difference; it’s the community. We’re just the organizers. We help connect fishermen to the resources they need.

Q: How many volunteers work with W.O.F.F.?
A: There is a core group of seven board members, all of whom are from fishing families from different gear-types. We’re fishermen’s wives, sisters, mothers, daughters and fishing business owners. We welcome anyone who cares about fishermen from the community into our group.

Q: How broad is your reach?
Chatham is the largest fishing fleet on the Cape and Islands. We find a bulk of our need is based in Chatham, whether it’s a resident fisherman, or a fisherman who moors and offloads at any of the three ports in town. But we do serve the entire Cape and Islands. We’ve helped fishing families from Provincetown to the bridge, and out on the Islands. Our scholarship funds are offered to Monomoy, Nauset, Cape Tech, and Dennis-Yarmouth regional schools.

Q: About how many families do you help on an annual basis?
A: We’ve raised over $100,000 for families since 2006. On an annual basis, we can help up to 75 people in a given year. Whether that’s referrals to community resources, like health insurance, or scholarships, childcare and direct financial assistance.

Karen Murdoch

Q: Describe the fundraisers you hold throughout the year:
Our annual events are the Blessing of the Fleet in May, and the Bliska Scavenger Hunt in the fall. The blessing is not a typical “ask” fundraiser; it’s a celebration to honor our fleet’s heritage and to send prayers for a safe and healthy fishing season. We put our signature pink boots out, which signifies donation requests. Our motto is “See the Boot. Know the Cause.”  The Bliska Scavenger Hunt has grown over the last three years. It’s a family oriented scavenger hunt race in downtown Chatham, in honor of a fisherman’s son, Brad Liska, who passed away from cancer at the age of 13 in 2012. We’re always adding new elements and fun surprises to keep it fresh every year, but it’s the community’s support of W.O.F.F. and Brad’s spirit that really shine through.

What’s ahead for 2016 and beyond?
A: We created a new logo featuring our signature pink boot, which we plan on using in our outreach efforts. There’s a quiet camaraderie among fishing families; we help each other out no matter what the circumstances. W.O.F.F. believes that the community of Chatham as a whole is part of that camaraderie. This town was built on the fishing industry, and everyone that lives, works and visits here is part of a deep fishing culture that we hope continues for future generations to come.