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story.lead_photo.caption Donna Westhues examines a purse being shown around the room Tuesday during the Power of the Purse United Way fundraiser at the Jefferson City Country Club. The purse sold for $4,200. Photo by Emil Lippe / News Tribune.

For some, happiness is a new handbag.

On Tuesday, the United Way of Central Missouri held its second annual Power of the Purse fundraiser, a large cocktail reception and purse auction that kicks off the organization's annual fundraising efforts, according to Ann Bax, the organization's president.

As more than 300 women filed into the Jefferson City Country Club, Bax and Nancy Wilson greeted them.

Wilson said she was never deeply involved with the organization, but her husband was. And when Bax asked her to help, she felt almost obligated to pitch in.

"You cannot turn Ann Bax down," Wilson said. "But, this is such a fun event. It's been great."

Wilson even donated a bag she loved — a simple little Tory Burch.

More than 110 bags were donated for the event, she said. And the women could feel confident they were going to get quality bags.

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One hundred of the bags were set aside for a silent auction. Twelve were paired with "experiences." Those bags were auctioned off during a live auction.

The bags, which retailed for $375-$1,400, would include things like a hot air balloon experience or a spa treatment.

"It's quite an event," Wilson said.

During the first Power of the Purse last year, organizers hoped to raise about $15,000 for United Way. They managed more than $33,000. This year looks even better. The value of the bags donated for Tuesday's event was estimated at more than $21,000.

Men volunteered to mill through the crowd of bag shoppers and demonstrate the experience bags. Todd Mayfield carried a Kate Spade purse. Spade, a Kansas City native, killed herself earlier this month. A memorial service was recently held for her in Kansas City.

The purse comes with the experience of a private tour of the Missouri Governor's Mansion for up to 10 people.

"It's good up until December, so the winner of the purse could take the tour while Christmas decorations are up," he said.

His son, Elijah Mayfield, a graduate of the Special Learning Center, modeled a tan Tory Burch tote. That purse's experience included $85 in treats from Cold Stone Creamery and a dozen cupcakes from Smallcakes Cupcakery and Creamery.

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"Elijah would not be who he is without the Special Learning Center," Todd Mayfield said. "We're blessed to have a family like the Special Learning Center and an agency like the United Way here."

Ryan Freeman, of Freeman Mortuary, worked the crowd, sporting a Stuart Weitzman tote. Donna Cook donated the bag, which included an experience centered around Jefferson City. Among the items was lunch with Mayor Carrie Tergin, including baklava made by the mayor's mom, Irene Tergin. It also included a $100 gift certificate for Carrie's Hallmark and a tour of the Capitol, including the Whispering Gallery, for four people, compliments of Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe and his wife Claudia Kehoe.

As Alfred Johnson worked through the crowd carrying a Frye handbag, which included the opportunity to meet the country duo Big and Rich in person, the Jefferson City Medical Group doctor said he likes the idea of the United Way.

"They're here," he said, "to help women, families and children."

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