Fundraisers go virtual - groups get creative in age of social distancing

Casino 041318 5357.jpg
Carol Porter (left), Mary Kaye Wright (middle) and Jerry Wright check out the auction items at a St. Mary's School fundraiser that was held at Carlos Creek Winery. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, this year's event will now be a virtual event. (Echo Press file photo)

More than seven months of planning went into St. Mary’s School’s biggest fundraiser – The Gathering (formerly known as Casino Night) – only for a health pandemic to happen causing a stay-at-home order from the governor, social distancing practices and large gatherings to go by the wayside.

But despite having that heavy hammer fall, crushing all their plans for the most critical fundraising event of the year, the event committee decided to forge forward. They stepped out of the box and came up with a new plan.

Instead of more than 300 attendees, a live auction, silent auction, games, networking and a time for parents to socialize and mingle, the event has taken a few twists and turns.

With less than a month of planning under their belts, the committee members did a complete 360, basically starting from scratch, to come up with The Gathering, a celebration of St. Mary’s School, the virtual event.

And now instead of being adults only, The Gathering has become a family event for the whole community.


Ashlie Bradley, co-chair, said the committee knew very little about hosting a virtual event, but after doing some research and exploring, they quickly threw one together.

“This is the biggest fundraiser for us,” said Bradley. “The committee, as well as the parents, have been amazing and supportive. We spent seven months of planning an in-person event and within a week changed it and did a complete remodel.”

The Gathering, which was supposed to take place April 17, will now take place beginning Saturday, May 9. It will open at 9 a.m. with a virtual auction that people can view at . The event will close on Friday, May 15, with a live Facebook Finale at 7 p.m. on the school’s Facebook page, .

Throughout the week, there will be plenty of fun for everyone on the school’s Facebook page, including a virtual talent show. Families can submit videos, which will be judged and then a winner will be announced.

Many other activities will be taking place, said Bradley, noting that it should be a lot of fun.

In addition, the school will still be hosting its big raffle, which typically coincides with The Gathering event. However, Bradley said the tickets cannot be purchased online.

Instead, tickets can be purchased in person at Elden’s Fresh Foods, Cullen’s Home Center, Midwest Machinery, Paul’s Small Engine or Integrity Title. They can also be purchased by contacting the school, the parish office or from any committee member.

Funds from the raffle will be used to purchase digital display boards for classrooms, said Troy Sladek, St. Mary’s School principal.


He said the current boards are more than 14 years old and not always reliable. Having the new boards, which he called amazing tools, will be very much appreciated by the teachers.

“Fifteen would be replaced, which would put one in every classroom,” said Sladek.

The boards, he added, are not just a valuable tool for teachers every day, but are also used for religious education classes, groups that use the parish education center and more. Sladek said they are really a community resource tool.

Under normal circumstances, Bradley said people would purchase tickets, at a cost of $40, to attend the event. She, along with the other committee members, are now hoping those same people will use those funds toward raffle tickets and silent auction items.

Sladek is hoping that by still hosting the event, albeit virtually, it will bring people together to support the cause of education.

“Education is so important and now more than ever, families, staff, community members need to come together,” he said. “We have an amazing community who supports us and we will have an amazing event celebrating St. Mary’s School.”

Bradley said she never would have expected The Gathering to be this different, but the coronavirus pandemic changed it in an instant.

“Planning a whole event like this has been amazing,” she said. “I feel so much passion around this cause and we are still able to give back to Christian education in Alexandria. We tried to keep it simple and are making the best of the situation. We are doing what we can to make this work.”


United Way event goes virtual, too

Another event that should have been held Friday, April 17, is the United Way’s Wine, Woman and Relaxation event.

Jen Jabas, executive director of United Way of Douglas and Pope Counties, said that event has also been turned into a virtual fundraising effort.

The silent auction, which is a staple of the event, will now take place via the United Way’s website, , and will open for bidding on Friday, May 1. The bidding will run through Thursday, May 7.

“Throughout the week, we will have games, a question of the day and other fun things to engage everyone, all through Facebook,” said Jabas.

In addition, there will be a virtual live premiere event on Friday, May 8, at 7 p.m. Winners of the silent auction will be announced and there will be a 30-minute program where viewers will learn about the Traveling Tree House and Women United. Those who watch live will be entered to win door prizes, said Jabas.

Moving to an online event allows the United Way to continue its fundraising efforts for the Traveling Tree House while following the social distance guidelines and stay-at-home orders, said Jabas, who is excited to see how well the event goes.

For more information, visit the United Way’s event page on its website.


Celeste Edenloff is the special projects editor and a reporter for the Alexandria Echo Press. She has lived in the Alexandria Lakes Area since 1997. She first worked for the Echo Press as a reporter from 1999 to 2011, and returned in 2016 to once again report on the community she calls home.
What To Read Next
Get Local