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Fundraising gets creative during COVID-19 pandemic


Principal Lorenza Jara Pastrick picks the winning raffle tickets live during The Big Reinvent, the annual Bishop Noll Institute fundraiser that went virtual this year on May 23. (Provided photo) 



Northwest Indiana Catholic


      The COVID-19 pandemic that closed churches, businesses and schools this spring as people were urged to stay home to stay healthy disrupted the global economy and also put a dent in traditional fundraising efforts by parishes, schools and charitable organizations.

      But never let it be said that Catholics aren’t creative, as shown by the ways Diocese of Gary groups have adapted to keep funding a variety of ministries.

      At Bishop Noll Institute, plans were well underway for the annual Big Event slated for April 24 when the COVID-19 pandemic led to a statewide stay-at-home ordered that cancelled all public events and closed school buildings in mid-March. At first anticipating a short shutdown, the fundraising gala was postponed until May, but when it became clear that no large gatherings would be possible for months, organizers began to “reimagine” their plans.

      “The committee originally decided to push back the event a month, then realized that going virtual was the only option,” explained Jennifer Florek, BNI’s communications specialist.

      Pivoting with a new plan, the auction went online, allowing bidders to check out the available items and bid on them from the comfort of home. On the evening of May 23, BNI president Paul Mullaney livestreamed The Big Reinvent, providing updates on the fundraising efforts as the auction progressed and bids were accepted.

      The Big Event cash raffle was also held, with principal Lorenza Jara Pastrick picking the winning tickets from a barrel as viewers watched. “The form for raffle tickets had been published earlier in the Noll Today magazine, and people were already sending in orders, so we went ahead with the raffle, too,” Florek added.

      The Hammond school actually revised its goal after early auction bidding exceeded the original goal, and when the virtual event ended, the earnings totaled $70,061. “With the support and generosity of the Warrior community, we met and exceeded our initial goal of $50,000,” said Mullaney in a ‘thank you.’ “The money raised will go toward student scholarships and directly benefit Bishop Noll students and their families when they are counting on us more than ever.”

      “We have to thank the BNI alumni for their generosity at such a difficult time,” added Florek.

      At Queen of All Saints parish in Michigan City, Knights of Columbus Council 12951 also pivoted to host a successful Mother’s Day fundraiser, according to Tom Root, who just took over as grand knight on July 1.

      “We usually host a Mother’s Day breakfast, but that was out of the question this year, so we held a (drive-up) plant sale instead, partnering with a greenhouse that delivered a variety of flowering plants to the church parking lot,” Root explained. Knights volunteered to work the two-day sale, some with their wives and children pitching in. Cars drove up, pointed to a selection, and a volunteer held it up for a yay or nay, all the while social distancing. The buyer’s choice was placed in the vehicle’s trunk and the driver proceeded to the payment table, where cash, check or credit card was accepted.

      “We advertised it with posters in the church, banners outside, and through social media,” Root said, “and the results were amazing.”

      Hoping to sell 50 plants, the Knights had to rush to the supplier for more “product” and sold 550 plants. “We grossed almost $9,000 in sales, and were able to present the parish with $4,000,” Root reported. “Our Council had decided earlier this year that all of fundraising proceeds during this time would go to the church for its needs.”

      The Society of St. Vincent de Paul chapter at St. James the Less in Highland got creative this year in an effort to continue its back-to-school backpack campaign that assists needy families.

      In past years, the chapter has each summer placed a tree in the church vestibule adorned with paper apples specific to a child whose family is registered through the parish food pantry. Written on each apple were the school supplies needed to fill that student’s backpack. Parishioners took an apple, shopped and filled a new backpack, returning it to the parish.

      This year, the service project morphed into Bucks for Backpacks, said St. Vincent de Paul chapter president Jerry McMahon. “We didn’t want everyone shopping,” he explained, so instead of apples, the tree is festooned with envelopes that donors can use to make a cash (or check) donation.

      “Starting with the list of children who received Angel Tree gifts at Christmas, “We called every family to check if they wanted to participate in the backpacks program,” McMahon noted. “A few said they did not need the help, but most were happy to hear we are continuing the program.”

      With the donations, “and some of our own money from church envelopes,” volunteers from the chapter are shopping for school supplies in bulk – a case of loose-leaf paper, packages of note cards, spiral notebooks and sets of markers – and filling new backpacks about 80 youngsters. Using a computer, the chapter will copy the list of needed supplies by grade level from the Highland schools and customize each backpack. McMahon said the volunteers are having trouble filling orders for hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes.

      “We normally hold a picnic with hot dogs and hand out the backpacks, but we can’t do that,” McMahon said. Volunteers will instead “meet on Aug. 3 to fill the backpacks and distribute them during scheduled morning and evening hours on Aug. 4 and 5 at the church.”

      This fall, the St. Vincent de Paul Society’s 13th annual fundraising walk will also take on a new format. On the heels of Sojourner Truth House’s successful virtual fundraising walk in June, this year’s Friends of the Poor Walk on Saturday. Sept. 26, will have both virtual and live components.

      Supporters can visit, click on the map and find the District Council of Gary Inc. to register and/or donate. “People can gather pledges for their virtual walk, or they can come out to Lemon Lake County Park in Crown Point, and walk a mile around the lake on their own, starting at 10 a.m.,” McMahon explained.

      While the annual potluck picnic had to be cancelled, the Lemon Lake park shelter has been reserved for walkers who want to relax or picnic with their family on their own. “We still have our ‘sleep-in category,’ too, for those who just want to collect pledges or make a donation, and everyone can submit their donation online or bring a check to their church,” McMahon explained.

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