In the days of COVID-19, when it is suddenly impossible to get hundreds of people to gather in one place, many local nonprofits are left scratching their heads trying to figure out how to continue to raise funds.
Many of these organizations rely on large-scale gatherings in the form of galas, dinners and other such events to raise the bulk of their funds. The Times Leader spoke with some of the area’s nonprofit organizations to answer a simple, but huge, question: “Now what?”
Sara Peperno, president and CEO of Northeast Sight Services, said that it’s a difficult question to answer.
Peperno said that most of their funding typically comes by way of events that simply cannot happen in 2020.
“A big piece of the money that we raise every year is special events,” she said, explaining that one of the largest is a golf tournament that was originally scheduled for June and then for August, before it was ultimately canceled.
Another major event that cannot happen is a large scale dinner that happens each fall, which typically raises nearly one fifth of the organization’s annual budget, which goes toward helping visually impaired individuals receive a variety of services to help them live what Peperno called a “very normal life.”
“We’re working on a replacement for that,” she said, before adding that it is difficult to make plans while everything remains so unsure. “Things are changing constantly through all of this.”
Peperno said that, in large part, Northeast Sight Services receives a substantial portion of its funding through grant money, but much of that money has dried up as funding has shifted to cover the fight against COVID-19. She said it is important to get the message out there that, while we are all being affected by COVID-19, some folks still need the help of other local nonprofits.
“People who have come to rely on our services, their needs have not changed,” she said. “Really, getting that message out there has been important to us.”
Now, Peperno says the focus has shifted, saying that the pandemic has forced the organization to evolve, including more of a focus on online gathering and simply just trying to get the message of what the group does out to the community.
And, thankfully, the community seems to be responding.
“We have such a wonderful community,” Peperno said, joy obvious in her voice. “People have been so incredibly generous.”
The message of generosity was echoed by leadership at the Osterhout Free Library.
Liz Caputo, adult services coordinator for the library, echoed Peperno’s point when she said that many people in our area are still relying on the services the library provides.
“We’re really doing the best we can to provide as many services as we can,” she said.
And it’s not just books that the library provides; the Osterhout Free Library provides computer access, research tools and educational services to anyone with a library card. For many people without access to internet search engines, a librarian is often the first person they rely on for questions that they need answered.
“We had someone call the other day asking how long to cook a ham,” she said — adding that a librarian dutifully helped find the answer.
Amber Loomis, director of development and community relations for the library, said that continued fundraising efforts are key to allowing the library to continue to provide the all-important services, but COVID-19 has drastically changed how fundraising works.
One thing the library was unable to do as it usually does is its regular book sale. While the sale was still held last week, things were a bit different, with Loomis saying that customers could drive up, pay a flat rate and get a “surprise book bundle.”
With a goal of raising $3,000 that was ultimately exceeded by about another $500, Loomis chalks it up as a success.
“We’re doing another one next Saturday,” she said. “We got a lot of great feedback on social media, and it’s a fun and unique way to support the library.”
Perhaps the bigger hit to the Osterhout’s fundraising efforts, though, is the cancellation of its annual Brewsterhout Rooftop Party. While it’s impossible to have a large scale event like the rooftop party normally is, Loomis says the Osterhout has something fun planned in its place.
The Osterhout will be releasing a coupon book, in which local businesses can apply to have a coupon in the book which will then be sold for a small fee to benefit the library. Loomis says it’s a great way to spread the wealth. If you’d like your business to be involved, Loomis says you can email her at [email protected] by Aug. 7 to get involved.
The library will also be holding an event on Sept. 12, the Osterhout Summer’s End Sea Fest, a drive-thru style fundraiser where, for $75 per dinner, you’ll get a seafood dinner prepared by the Westmoreland Club, and the purchase of two dinners gets you a six pack of Susquehanna Brewing Company Beer and a pint of Blue Ribbon Ice Cream. An online auction will also be held between Sept. 10 and 13.
Other nonprofits are taking a similar strategy, with the North Branch Land Trust holding a drive-thru dinner of its own, once again provided by the Westmoreland Club, on Aug. 16. Along with the drive-thru dinner, the Trust will hold an online acution Aug. 13 through 15, a $5,000 cash raffle and a wine pull at the drive-thru dinner – for $20 a diner will receive atheir choice of a numbered bag, containing a bottle of wine or a Fine Wine & Spirits gift card valued at $20 to $400. For more information on any of the events, go to www.nblt.org.
Caputo said this trying time makes it vitally important to support the library.
“When this is over, the library will still be here to serve the community of Wilkes-Barre, but how much they support us now will determine how many resources we can provide,” she said.
It’s a sentiment that, surely, most nonprofits locally can get behind.
“I’m worrying about next year,” Peperno said, saying that it’s hard to predict exactly what Northeast Sight Services will be able to do in terms of fundraising next year. “We can make a lot of assumptions for this year, but I think going forward a little bit is pretty nerve-wracking.”
But Peperno, much like the folks at the Osterhout, assures that the nonprofit will still be here to provide its necessary services.
“One of the biggest things we always try to do is get the message to our community that we’re still here,” she said. “We’re still here and we’re doing everything we can to help this population.”
If you are interested in helping either of these organizations out — or, indeed, any of the other nonprofits in our area that are in the same boat — the best place to begin is on the organization’s website. You can find more information at northeastsight.org and osterhout.info, respectively.