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Saturated with needs: Some organizations face fundraising dilemma in wake of hurricane

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Hope of Glory Ministries, a faith-based nonprofit organization, operates a food co-op program designed to help participating families become self-sufficient. The Good Samaritan race is its only annual fundraiser.


By Kim Grizzard
The Daily Reflector

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Within a week after Hurricane Florence, much of life was back to normal in Pitt County. Debris was removed, electricity restored and kids had returned to school. Still, some local organizations opted to take a rain check on fundraising events.

It wasn't flooding that canceled Gray Gallery's Keaton and Umberger Gala Art Auction and Sale or Vidant Rehabilitation Services Run, Walk & Roll on Sept. 22. It was the saturation of other needs.

ECU's School of Art and Design encouraged its supporters to consider channeling their gifts to charities including Foundation for the Carolinas, Direct Relief, United Way and Second Harvest.

“While East Carolina University School of Art and Design and the Gray Gallery have been spared by Hurricane Florence, we are aware that a significant amount of our surrounding communities were not,” gallery Director Angel Bellaran said in a statement. “In solidarity with hurricane victims, the Gray Gallery hopes that those who are in a position to give would currently focus their efforts on our neighbors in need.”

The auction, a fundraiser for scholarships and programs in the School of Art and Design, has been postponed until 2019. The Run, Walk & Roll annual road race, which helps fund programs and services for patients at Vidant's Rehabilitation Center, won't be rescheduled for this year either.

In the wake of natural disasters, non-relief organizations can face a different kind of storm than relief agencies encounter, according to leaders with several local efforts. Carrying on a charity's business as usual can appear insensitive to a community's urgent needs. Inundating contributors with requests for funding can result in donor fatigue. But canceling key fundraisers can create a catastrophe in terms of budget, leaving the organization unable to meet the needs of the people it serves.

“This (hurricane) is such a domino effect on whole communities,” said Laura Strabley, executive director of the Carolina Pregnancy Center, which is hosting its Celebrate Life Banquet as scheduled on Thursday.

“We can't lack empathy,” Strabley said, adding that members of the center’s staff and board of directors are helping to support hurricane relief efforts. “(But) in our field there are crises that are occurring where people need our direct support. We still need to be accessible to them.”

The pregnancy center had just finished hosting its annual fundraising banquet when Hurricane Matthew hit eastern North Carolina in October 2016. The annual event is the center's biggest fundraiser. This year's banquet, which features author and speaker David Nasser, has a fundraising goal of $140,000.

“In reality, we're not even in a position to consider canceling,” Strabley said. “We're booking in advance. You don't just reschedule a banquet like this.”

Matthew forced Hope of Glory Ministries to postpone its Good Samaritan 5K run two years ago when the hurricane made landfall the day the event had been scheduled. The race was postponed for two weeks, with race registration fees that came in after Matthew designated for hurricane relief.

“Events like a 5K and a banquet, they require four to six months of planning,” Executive Director Mandi Stewart said. “A lot of strategy and time and money has been invested.”

The Good Samaritan event is Hope of Glory's only annual fundraiser. 

“You've got so many people, organizations and businesses involved,” Stewart said of the event set for Saturday. “You've got so many people banking on it.”

Vidant Rehabilitation Services Run, Walk & Roll had a goal of raising $15,000 for its 11th annual event. The money it raised in the past has been used to purchase equipment for therapy.

When this year's event rolled around, race coordinator Kathy Garren, an education nurse specialist, was dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, which caused a 6-foot storm surge around her home in Chocowinity. Garren was without electricity for a week.

Knowing the hurricane affected other race participants, Garren and fellow volunteers made the decision to cancel. But the fundraiser was not a total loss. Rehabilitation Services received $9,500 from sponsors; none of them requested refunds when they learned the race would not be held.

Other nonprofit organizations have experienced similar generosity. Stewart said fundraising for the Good Samaritan race is ahead of last year's giving even though people also are giving toward hurricane relief. 

“We have seen an increase in giving to our ministry even in this time of uncertainty and the other opportunities to give toward the relief effort,” she said.

The Rev. Jeff Manning, pastor of Unity Free Will Baptist Church, gave his congregation a chance to give to hurricane relief as part of a designated offering a week after the storm. Today, church members will have a chance to give to Compassion International, a Christian humanitarian organization.

Weeks before Florence was in the forecast, the church had scheduled Compassion Journey, an audio-guided tour through exhibits that show the challenges that face those growing up in extreme poverty. The event is designed to give church members a chance to sponsor children in Haiti, an impoverished Caribbean island nation that has seen its share of natural disasters, including a devastating earthquake in 2010.

Manning said the church never considered canceling the Compassion event.

“The kids who live in poverty all around the world, their needs aren't interrupted by the hurricane,” he said. “They continue. They are just as intense as they were before Florence.”

Since Florence, Unity has sent been sending teams of volunteers to Washington, N.C., and New Bern to aid in hurricane cleanup. The church also is housing Red Cross disaster relief workers in its family life center. In addition, a gospel concert at Unity, originally scheduled for Sept. 15, has been rescheduled for Oct. 6 and designated as a benefit for hurricane relief.

“I believe that God is compassionate about both hurricane relief and children in poverty,” Manning said. “I believe if people respond to God's spirit, then they will give to both.”

Contact Kim Grizzard at kgrizzard@reflector.com and 329-9578.