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Can't mask the spirit of giving in Lakewood Ranch

As nonprofit revenues fall due to COVID-19, the Giving Challenge is more important than ever.

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While Nate’s Honor Animal Rescue works to ensure its animals find homes, the COVID-19 pandemic has understandably resulted in a decrease in donations.

“We’re just not seeing donations come in,” said Dari Oglesby, executive director of the rescue. “A lot of people’s efforts are focused toward COVID-19-related agencies and nonprofits that are helping those impacted.”

The rescue is depending on this year’s Giving Challenge to provide funding to continue its work. 

The Giving Challenge is from noon April 28 to 11:59 a.m. April 29 and could be one of the most important 24 hours in the nonprofit’s six years. The event is held by the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, and the Patterson Foundation will match donations between $25 and $100.

Nate’s Honor will have to make tough decisions if funding continues to decrease and the need for services increases.

“We’re a no-kill shelter, so what comes in, we’ll treat, but we’ll have to save fewer lives as far as the bottom line,” Oglesby said.

It’s the same story for East County’s other nonprofits. Their big day, in terms of donations, comes at a time when many owners have had to close their businesses or have had their revenues seriously reduced.

Still, the need is more than ever.

Money from the Giving Challenge for Meals on Wheels Plus of Manatee will go toward purchasing food in bulk to provide meals to people who are homebound as well as food banks.

Amy Towery, the vice president of development for Meals on Wheels Plus, said the nonprofit has seen a 75% increase in calls to the Food Bank of Manatee as a result of COVID-19.

Sarasota Manatee Association for Riding Therapy and Dream Oaks Camp have had to suspend programming as a result of COVID-19, which means they don’t have any revenue coming in.

Rebecca Blitz, executive director of SMART, said there’s only three people, including herself, taking care of the 15 horses at the organization’s barn. Their primary focus is having money to feed the horses. One bag of feed will feed three horses for a day for $23.

“It has been doomsday for us,” Blitz said. “We have zero income coming in, and we have zero volunteers on the property.”

Blitz realizes the strain on the community as well but is glad the event hasn’t been postponed.

“I do believe it should happen just because there are people who do have extra income,” Blitz said. “The nonprofits are desperate. They are struggling because there’s no fundraisers.”

Dream Oaks Camp has lost $50,000 in revenue in a month due to suspending programming and canceling camps. Giving Challenge funds will go toward purchasing masks, any available coronavirus testing and screening, and more measures that can assure campers will be safe and healthy while attending camp.

Like Blitz, Dream Oaks Executive Director Elena Cassella is glad the Giving Challenge is going forward as scheduled.

“There’s not a small donation that would not be meaningful to any agency,” Cassella said. “I just hope the community takes care of their families, loved ones and friends, and if there is anything left, hopefully they feel inspired to give.”

For many nonprofits, the Giving Challenge is the only fundraiser they will have this year as a result of several events being canceled due to COVID-19.

Although the Rotary Club of Lakewood Ranch collects donations throughout the year for its Books for Kids program, the Giving Challenge is the only formal fundraiser the club has for the program each year.

SMART canceled its fundraiser, The Mane Event, which was originally scheduled for March 26.

Nate's Honor Animal Rescue is working to make sure animals are going into forever homes. File photo.
Nate's Honor Animal Rescue is working to make sure animals are going into forever homes. File photo.

Dream Oaks Camp postponed its Lilly Pulitzer Luncheon and Fashion Show that was scheduled for May 8. The goal is to reschedule the event for July.

Some nonprofits are expecting a decrease in donations compared to previous years while others aren’t sure how they’ll be impacted this year.

The Giving Challenges provides at least a third of Nate’s Honor’s budget. In the 2018 Giving Challenge, the rescue saw 1,600 donations totaling more than $190,000.

“We’re just not going to see that this year,” Oglesby said. “There was some discussion early on [about postponing it], and they made that decision to go forward, and we respect that decision. There’s too many people that have put too much time and effort into it. It may not be what you’d hope to get, but I think anything’s better than nothing.”

Ted Lindenberg, the director of Books for Kids, hasn’t set a goal for this year’s Giving Challenge.

“The people at the  Patterson Foundation and the Community Foundation of Sarasota County believe that it should go on and if they believe it, then I’m OK with that,” Lindenberg said.


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