The pandemic’s tight grip has ripped from the calendar more annual events and celebrations than any of us could have imagined. Among those most affected have been community organizations that rely on in-person fundraisers in large part to sustain the important work they provide throughout the year.
This is the time of year when our inboxes and mailboxes are brimming with donation solicitations from worthy groups. But what’s different this year is you won’t find a single invitation to an in-person fundraising event on account of COVID-19. And that is creating enormous pressure on budgets for libraries, groups that run food pantries and other community-based nonprofits.
The Community Center of Northern Westchester adjusted its fall fundraising plans several months ago due to COVID restrictions. “Every October we typically celebrate and acknowledge all of the wonderful things that happen at the Community Center at our annual benefit,” said Lisa Brotmann, development and communications manager. In its place, the Katonah-based organization opted to create the Community Center Benefit to “ensure the continuation of our critical work to help the ever-growing number of families who are turning to the Community Center’s food pantry for support,” she explained. “We asked those in our community who would normally attend or support the (annual) benefit to consider donating to this fund to help us keep our shelves filled.”
The Benefit Fund campaign has been a success in the eyes of Center officials. Still, “we were only able to raise half the amount we normally would,” Ms. Brotmann reported. “Our hope is that we will be able to make up some of those funds with our end-of-year appeal which will begin after Thanksgiving.”
This shortfall in fundraising comes at a time of extraordinary need. To date, the Community Center has provided more than 1.2 million meals to over 3,000 local families, 1,100 of which are new to the Center this year. “Our annual food budget has almost tripled and the number of food insecure families continues to rise as the pandemic persists,” Ms. Brotmann said.
The Katonah Village Library typically raises over $90,000 from three annual events — the Spring into Summer benefit, The Harvest Table and the popular Book Sale held each fall. “Patron support and fundraising events truly help us keep the doors open,” said Mary Kane, library director. However, “with all of our fundraisers canceled, the library is looking at a major revenue loss,” she added.
Facing what Ms. Kane called “unprecedented challenges,” the library this year has put extra focus on its Annual Appeal, which seek donations from community members. It has gone well, so far. A matching gift challenge has already been met, and the campaign is now benefiting from a second round of matching gifts from the same supporters. Funds raised from the campaign will help the library (which also receives annual funding from the Town of Bedford) continue to provide librarian and technology support, home-delivery, numerous Zoom programs, contact-free pickup and by-appointment browsing.
“It has been such a tough year on everyone,” Ms. Kane observed, a sentiment not lost on others in our communities who are looking to fill fundraising gaps. As we report on Page 8 of this issue, the Lewisboro Library is holding Pop Up Bake Sales over the holidays to generate extra funds. Facing a growing budget deficit in 2021, the library’s board of directors is busy planning a winter benefit in partnership with local businesses.
Member donations at the Bedford Historical Society are down this year by about 30%, according to Lynn Ryan, executive director. “While we tried to remain positive during the beginning of the pandemic, we knew that it was more likely than not that we would not be able to hold a large-scale event with lots of people,” she said. BHS cancelled this year’s Hoppfest, a lively, annual fall-themed event that is usually staged under a giant white tent on the Bedford Village Green. In its place, BHS held a limited-capacity live event with local photographer and book author William Abranowicz, which was also livestreamed for those who preferred to stay at home. From that program as well as a direct fundraising appeal, “we were able to raise about 40% of what Hoppfest would raise,” Ms. Ryan said.
Fortunately, Bedford Historical Society is in a relatively strong position, the executive director noted. “Our properties have been well maintained over the past years so our needs are not immediate,” she said. She recognized that this year especially, those considering donations may look elsewhere. “Things are uncertain for many people, and organizations that are feeding the hungry and supporting health care absolutely take precedence at a time like this,” Ms. Ryan said.
As we sit around the Thanksgiving table on Thursday, we should be grateful for the many organizations, staff members and volunteers who meet our community’s most pressing needs — and consider ways we can help them in their own time of need.