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Central Illinois Charities Facing Tough Obstacles Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

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With the winter holidays approaching, charities and non-profit organizations throughout the United States traditionally amplify their year-round calls to remember the less fortunate.

During the 2020 holidays season, however, the COVID-19 pandemic has swelled the ranks of the less fortunate, while rendering the organizations whose mission it is to help them less fortunate themselves. Tazewell County non-for-profit organizations like We Care of Morton and the Tazewell County Child Advocacy Center (CAC) in Pekin depend heavily each year on in-person fund-raising events like golf outings and trivia nights. But physical distancing protocols during the pandemic have forced organizations throughout central Illinois to cancel in-person events, which had led to a significant drop in community donations.

Mike Hutchinson, executive director of We Care of Morton, estimated that the group’s annual golf outing in June at the Pekin Country Club raises about $22,000.

“About half of that would go to the cost of putting on the program,” Hutchinson explained. “The other half would be something we could use for We Care programs. Unfortunately this year’s cancellation means we lost somewhere in the neighborhood of $12,000.”

Hutchinson does not foresee any reduction in We Care’s transportation service to rural areas or its Meals and Wheels delivery program. However, the lack of funds due to the pandemic could mean that at least part of a cash reserve intended to be applied to new vehicle purchases will instead be used to offset operating costs.

“We don’t have any vehicles that have less than 100,000 miles on them,” Hutchinson added. “Most of our vehicles will run until they have 300 to 350,000 miles on them, which is quite a bit. We lost one of our vehicles (last month) because of the transmission. It had 360,000 miles and it wasn’t worth putting in a new transmission.”

The Tazewell County CAC’s largest fundraising event of the year is the organization’s Trivia Night in April. According to CAC Director Sarah Wrhel, the event typically raises about $20,000. With this year’s Trivia Night cancelled due to COVID and the fate of next year’s event uncertain, CAC is looking to plan a virtual fundraiser for next spring.

“We’re still trying to work through what and when,” said Wrhel.

Funded through community donations as well as state and federal grants, CAC works with police departments and the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services to provide forensic interviews and crisis counseling to child abuse victims. A drop in community donations this year due to the pandemic could force the facility to cut its crisis counseling program, according to Wrhel. CAC has sent out a seasonal appeal letter for donations, and Wrhel hopes the effort will raise as much as $10,000.

The Salvation Army typically kicks off its Christmas Campaign with a flourish as the international charitable organization rolls out its iconic red kettles. The Salvation Army of Tazewell County heralded its seasonal fund drive last week with a Christmas tree lighting ceremony at Mineral Springs Park in Pekin. Capt. Brandon Lewis acknowledged that the pandemic has presented many challenges this year in terms of raising funds, serving people, and connecting with the community. But the Salvation Army has managed to adapt by moving its Christmas toy distribution online and through automation of its food pantry.

“You come in, sign in remotely and we deliver a food box to your car,” said Lewis. “We’re masked, gloved, and sanitized … the whole nine yards.”

In-person fundraising in the form of the Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Campaign will take place as scheduled, Lewis added. In spite of the pandemic, or perhaps even because of the pandemic, he is confident that the Salvation Army will meet its Christmas Campaign goal of $155,000.

“COVID-19 has certainly had us face challenges and see more of our neighbors in need, and we’ve seen more people come those needs,” Lewis explained. “We’re confident not only in the ability to fundraise, but, more importantly, the ability to connect with more people.”

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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