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Pandemic hurt many service groups’ 2020 fundraising, but much still done

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz Alpena Lions Club members Bernie Lamp III, left, and Bernie Lamp Jr., center, show off a box of glasses donated to Dennis Neumann. The glasses are distributed around the globe via the Most Ministries charity.

ALPENA — The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on local nonprofits, causing fundraising declines and the cancellation of programs.

Lost revenue from fundraisers limits what charities can do to help improve the lives of others, nonprofit leaders said. It could mean fewer people receive eye doctor appointments, receive college grants, or enjoy a simple activity like catching a fish.

Most groups are taking a wait-and-see approach to what can be done this year as the pandemic continues.

The Alpena Optimist Club, whose mission is to assist children, was forced last year to cancel its marquee event, the Family Fun Spring Break Day, and its annual kids fishing day at Culligan Plaza, President Beckie Thomson said.

“Our biggest fundraiser is the rubber duckie race on the Fourth of July, but the parade and almost everything was canceled, so we didn’t have it,” she said. “We also haven’t had our bump-and-runs. Basically, we were down almost 100% in fundraising.”

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz A group of children play on a large wooden truck at the playground at the Alpena County Fairgrounds. The playground was paid for and is maintained by the Alpena Optimist Club.

Last year, the Optimists gave 1,000 refillable water bottles to students in Alpena, one of its biggest donations. The water bottles were donated so kids do not have to share a drinking fountain, where COVID-19 could spread.

The Alpena Lions Club, which provides items like glasses, hearing aids, and medical exams, was able to maintain finances somewhat, but did have to dip into its savings to make up for a shortfall in the sale of raffle tickets, President Bernie Lamp III said.

The Lions’ primary fundraiser is White Cane Day, during which club members seek donations outside local businesses and give people who donate little white canes to display. Lamp said fundraising was limited in 2020, because several retailers didn’t want to let the club members interact with customers because of COVID-19.

Still, Lamp said, club members accepted donations at Perch’s IGA and at the vacant lot on Chisholm Street where the Habitat for Humanity ReSale store once stood, and “it worked out really well, so we didn’t get impacted as much as we could have.”

The group’s charitable donations from the event ended a touch under par compared to the prior year.

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz A group of children play on a large wooden truck at the playground at the Alpena County Fairgrounds. The playground was paid for and is maintained by the Alpena Optimist Club.

The Rotary Club of Alpena was fortunate to host its primary fundraising event about a week before the government imposed restrictions on gatherings to help reduce the spread of COVID-19.

In early March, the Brew on the Bay Craft Beer and Wine Festival attracted about 600 people, Rotary officials said. The festival features an auction that raises thousands of dollars for community projects.

Though money was raised, the coronavirus forced Rotary to delay its plan to install new benches on the breakwall in Alpena and to add a telescope for people to look out over Thunder Bay, officials said.

Rotary President Wendy Servia said the breakwall project will commence when the weather breaks this spring.

“We will have a few more service projects, like working on Rotary Island (in the Thunder Bay River) and things like that,” she said. “We are all looking forward to getting together again and working together to better the community.”

Though Rotary couldn’t complete its breakwall project in 2020, it did hand out a series of mini-grants to other local charities, Servia said.

The pandemic didn’t affect everyone equally.

Kiwanis Club President Beth Pelkey, for example, said two of that group’s three main fundraisers were not impacted by the pandemic — and, actually, the Kiwanis raised more funds last year than in years past.

Six times a year, the Kiwanis and the Alpena Booster Club partner to set up the Avenue of Flags. People pay to have an American flag set up to commemorate someone along the Thunder Bay River near Duck Park and on Washington Avenue. The two clubs split the proceeds.

Kiwanis also sells nuts during the holiday season, which Pelkey said was a hit in 2020.

The third fundraiser, a peanut sale in front of local businesses, was scrapped.

“It was sad we weren’t able to do the peanut sale, but it really didn’t hurt us that bad because of how well we did on the other two fundraisers,” Pelkey said.

Pelkey said the organization continued its charitable goals during the pandemic, and, for the most part, made contributions as normal.

Kathy Newhouse, volunteer coordinator at the Alpena Baby Pantry, said the pantry gets a monthly check from Kiwanis to help stock diapers, wipes, and other essential items for parents and caregivers of children up to 4 years old.

Without the support of the Kiwanis, local churches, and other charitable organizations, “we wouldn’t be able to give the families what they need,” Newhouse said. “If we didn’t get the donations we do, we wouldn’t be able to support the amount of families we do. Our community is very supportive of us, and we always appreciate what they give us.”

Now that 2021 has arrived, the clubs hope for a more limited impact from the pandemic compared to last year, but admit questions remain.

Thomson, of the Optimist club, said members are eager to push forward.

“It is the Optimist Club, so we are trying really hard to remain optimistic,” she said. “We try to be upbeat, because everyone needs a little optimism right now.”

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