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East County Wednesday, Mar. 18, 2020 1 year ago

Coronavirus affects health of nonprofits in Lakewood Ranch area

Cancelled events keeps nonprofits from their donors.
by: Jay Heater Managing Editor

It was a feel-good story for a nonprofit in a time of uncertainty.

The A Life Story Foundation, founded by Lake Club's Kevin Swan, decided to go forward with its March 14 Cirque to Cure fundraiser under the big top at Nathan Benderson Park.

With most nonprofit events being cancelled due to the threat of the coronavirus spread, Swan made the hard decision to go forward because he felt the big top tent offered adequate spacing for those in attendance, combined with the urgent need to raise funds for ALS research.

"We went back and forth about canceling the event," Swan said. "But in the end it was just too important for the organization's livelihood and mission. We were blown away by the amount of giving that such a small crowd was able to produce!"

He thought it would be a great night of generosity, but the event far exceeded his expectations.

It wasn't just the $135,000 that was raised, but the way it was raised.

More than 200 tickets were sold for the event, but only 70 people attended. That doesn't mean those who didn't attend abandoned the effort, they made contributions, too.

Then the people who did go, rallied at every opportunity. During the auction portion of the event, a case of toilet paper sold for $300.

The $135,000 raised was 17% more than the previous year with a third of the attendance.

The Mark Wandall Foundation is in danger of losing important funding to send kids to its Comfort Zone Camp.

"The amount of love and support that filled the room was truly something special," Swan said. 

Other nonprofits know they have tremendous support in the community, but the access to those who give has been curtailed by the cancellation of so many events.

One such event was the Mark Wandall Foundation's An Evening at the Tower that was planned March 27 at Nathan Benderson Park in the finish tower.

The event raised $33,000 last year that went a long ways in sending 68 children in grief situations (they had lost a parent or family member) to the Comfort Zone Camp in Fruitland Park. Melissa Wandall said the loss of funds most likely would force the foundation to cancel next year's camp.

This year's camp was held March 8 and Melissa Wandall said it was fortunate it occurred before the coronavirus began to spread in the U.S. She said it is critical in helping those children cope with their grief.

Nathan Benderson Park made an announcement March 16 that events of 50 or more people that are scheduled through April 12 are postponed.

Melissa Wandall said she hopes the event can be rescheduled and she will immediately begin working with Nathan Benderson Park on possible dates, but she knows the schedule already is jammed for the finish tower and several other organizations will be trying to reschedule their events as well.

Comfort Zone Camp had 15 children on the waiting list who didn't get to attend this year, so the demand for the camp is high

"We just ask that people have patience as we reschedule the event," she said. "We're certainly not going anywhere. This is just a bump in the road."

It's a big bump in the road as well for the Homes for Our Troops Golf Tournament that was scheduled April 1 at Rosedale Golf and Country Club. Tournament organizers Deb and Jim Kehoe and Kathi and John Skelton announced March 13 their tournament would be cancelled this year.

The group has raised $451,758 over the years from the event that goes to buy a disabled veteran a home specialty equipped to meet his or her needs. They raised $157,945 last year.

"We had to cancel everything associated with the tournament," said Kathi Skelton. "We had things like tennis and yoga. We do hold a significant donors cocktail party with about 80 people that was postponed, but we will rescheduled, most likely in the fall."

She said, however, many of those who sponsor or donate to the tournament still will give their donation, meaning about $115,000 has been sent for the program, which this year will provide a home in Land O'Lakes for disabled veteran Stephen Peterson.

Still, there will be lost funds that can't be made up.

"Something like this makes us appreciate all the blessings we have in our daily lives, and how fragile our lives are," she said.

Some nonprofits have even more demand, and thus more stress, during such emergency periods.

Meals and Wheels Plus of Manatee County will try to meet a growing demand for food with schools out — and therefore subsidized luncheons for students in need — along with more people being homebound.

Plus there is an increased awareness during food preparation.

"We are taking every precaution possible to safeguard not only our clients but also our volunteers who help deliver our meals and our staff," said Amy Towery, Meals On Wheels' vice president of development. "We’re providing gloves, disinfecting wipes. We already have extremely high standards, but we’re upping that so any surfaces are clean and deeply sanitized to minimize risk to anyone."

Towery said some of the volunteers who delivered meals have chosen not to do so during this time. So they do have an increased need to drivers. 

She said it's too early to understand the long term impact of the coronavirus.

"We do know that we are seeing an increased demand in food donations from Food Bank of Manatee," she said. "We know that they’re counting on us for more food already. We expect to see that in the coming months just the rippling effects of what this pandemic is causing. We right now are seeing increased need for meals for seniors."

Towery said Meals on Wheels Plus is urging the public to consider food or monetary donations.  

"We need people to step up and help meet needs," she said. "The School District of Manatee County reached out to us to help provide food for families during the extended school break. There are yellow Food Bank of Manatee barrels scattered throughout Manatee County where people can donate food.

"I would say these are unprecedented times. We prepare and we plan for different scenarios, but I think what we see unfolding will sharpen organizations to think about the potential global impacts of program delivery, mobilization, and communication."

Food barrels for The Food Bank of Manatee are available at any Manatee County public library,  all Manatee County Goodwill locations, and the Humana office located on 14th St. in Bradenton. Donations can also be made at Meals on Wheels Plus of Manatee and The Food Bank of Manatee, both located at 811 23rd Ave. East, Bradenton. Monetary donations can be made at  







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