By Lethbridge Herald on March 26, 2020.
Charitable organizations in Lethbridge are finding their fundraising efforts severely hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic that has prompted the cancellation of public events. It has not only meant fundraising events crossed off the calendar, but halted casinos and bingos, too.
The situation has left non-profits scrambling in the wake of revenue streams that have suddenly dried up as a result of COVID-19 measures.
“A lot of organizations like us rely almost exclusively on donations from the community,” said Connolly Tate-Mitchell, marketing and communications co-ordinator with the United Way of Lethbridge and South Western Alberta. “Donation revenue might decline and sponsorship for fundraising events might get slow.”
The United Way supports close to 20 partner agencies which provide a wide range of services across the region, and many of those groups, such as the Lethbridge Soup Kitchen, Lethbridge Food Bank and Interfaith Food Bank Society of Lethbridge, are continuing to assist people during the pandemic.
“Charities and non-profits are still working to support people. That’s a way to keep the community healthy, by supporting those organizations,” said Tate-Mitchell.
“We’re hoping the community is going to step up in a big way.”
The circumstances are forcing charities and non-profits to be flexible with their fundraising and many are taking their efforts online.
“It’s a real opportunity for us to use our technology and be creative,” Tate-Mitchell said.
The COVID-19 crisis has also slowed applications for United Way funding, prompting the United Way to consider extending the deadline for organizations to apply. The public can check the United Way website, lethbridgeunitedway.ca, for updates or for more information.
The pandemic forced the Kinsmen Club of Lethbridge to cancel one of its major fundraisers, the annual Mardi Gras Gala, 48 hours before it was scheduled to take place.
“That was a big hit for us,” said club president Matthew Robertson, adding the event typically raises about $30,000 for the club.
“We’re still scrambling with how to make that up.”
“It was a really difficult decision to cancel Mardi Gras,” said Robertson, adding the club couldn’t simply postpone the event because it couldn’t be determined when it might be rescheduled.
“We don’t know where this is headed,” he said of the COVID situation.
One of the activities planned for the Mardi Gras Gala was a silent auction, and since the auction items had already been collected, the club is conducting an online auction, which went live Saturday morning and will continue until April 5. The auction, which is in support of the Ready Set Go Back-to-School Fair, can be accessed on the Kinsmen Club’s Facebook page or via the club website, http://www.lethbridgekinsmen.ca.
Robertson said it’s a difficult time to be asking the community for money with so many others dealing with hard times. “We’re asking for support for the auction if they’re one of the lucky ones whose income is in good shape.”
The club’s next major fundraiser is the Walk to End CF in May.
“We haven’t cancelled it yet but it is very much up in the air,” Robertson acknowledged.
One of the key components of the Kinsmen Club’s work is community service, and those efforts are “on pause right now,” said Robertson, adding the club does plan to play a part in helping the community recover from the COVID crisis once things return to normal.
Another group whose work is on hold is the Lethbridge Therapeutic Riding Association.
The arena has been closed to the public until further notice, and the annual Poker Night fundraiser scheduled for April has been cancelled.
“We’re limping along just like every other business in the world right now,” said LTRA executive director Tony Deys.
As for another of the LTRA’s key fundraisers, the June golf tournament, “we’re unsure at this point.”
“For us, we really rely on three or four fairly major fundraisers through the year to keep us afloat,” said Deys, adding the situation is going to require “some tightening of the belt, and hopefully some help from the government.”
While the group’s riding services are on hold, there are still bills that need to be paid.
“Bottom line, we’ve got about 55 or 60 horses here that still need to be taken care of,” he said. “Right now that’s our top priority.”
The organization hasn’t gone online or employed social media to appeal for donations “because everybody’s kind of in the same situation,” Deys said. “We’re already barebones as far as staff goes. We always operate on a shoestring budget and we don’t have a lot of staff.”
Those who are there are adhering to the prescribed social distancing guidelines. “That’s the parameters we’re following right now.”
Like others, Deys isn’t able to look too far into the future concerning what the LTRA will do.
“We’re all flying blind,” he noted.
“I’m the eternal optimist but we’re basically shut down. We’ll take it on a week-by-week basis and hopefully some people will be able to come out and visit their horses.”
Another fundraising event which fell victim to the COVID crisis was the Wood’s Homes Children’s Benefit Gala, which had been scheduled for March 28. Organizers postponed the event but, as of Wednesday, no final decisions have been made on how the organization will move forward on rescheduling the gala.