NORWAY — Charitable fundraising is a summer staple in Maine. But with public gathering restrictions due to COVID-19 forcing the cancellation of most annual events, nonprofits are experimenting with new ways to keep their traditional revenue programs going.

Oxford Hills Rotary Club’s Lobster and Steak Fest will not look like this in 2020. Submitted photo

The Rotary Club of Oxford Hills is not afraid to change the scale and scope of its fundraising. Its 34th Annual Lobster and Steak Fest will be a pickup/takeout meal, and its Live Charity Auction is transitioning to online sales sites.

The club canceled the first of its two Lobster Feed Raffles for the year but organizers are hopeful they will find a way to pull off the second by September.

The auction is normally held during the second week of July. Paul Thornfeldt, who oversees the event, continues to accept donated items and has started selling online using Facebook and Craig’s List.

“We are still gathering donations,” Thornfeldt said. “But there are differences this year. We normally collect gift certificates from local businesses and cars from a couple of local dealers. But businesses are hurting, too. We can’t expect them to donate as usual.”

Thornfeldt has been taking in furniture, power tools and equipment and recreational items and listing them online. Some things he is marketing to the local community, posting them on the Oxford Swap and Sell page on Facebook. Others he is putting out to a wider audience and selling through Craig’s List ads.

He recently sold an outboard motor, some decent used tires and furniture, which pulled in about $1,000.

“We usually make over $12,000 or more through the auction,” Thornfeldt said. “I doubt we will see that this year. But people have had the time to clean out their basements and garages. I have a good idea of what will sell and what people are willing to pay. I just took in a donated Poulin lawn tractor that I am cleaning up to list. We will keep it going this way.”

Thornfeldt said one popular fundraiser that won’t be affected by COVID-19 is the Rotary’s Holiday Cabot Cheese sale.

“We purchase about 500, two-pound wheels of cheese from Cabot Creamery,” he said. “With scheduled pickup for orders at Thanksgiving and before Christmas. We should be able to do that one regardless. A lot of people buy them as gifts every year.”

George Rice is in charge of the Rotary’s Lobsters for Scholars raffle, which in previous years has been held twice during the summer season. Proceeds go toward its high school scholarship fund.

“This has been a good community program,” Rice said. “One year the raffle winner decided to double her prize from a meal for 12 to 24 and paid for the difference. Another year someone donated the meal to the Veterans Home some at residents could enjoy a lobster dinner. Those of us who put it on, we really enjoyed that day.

The club has an outfitted food truck to prepare its fundraising meals, including its annual Lobster Fest, which in past years has served up to 400 of lobster and steak dinners.

At $25 a ticket, the meal includes French fries, steamers, corn on the cob, watermelon and beverages.

“The feed is not a huge moneymaker for us, but we’ve been doing it for 33 years and it is very popular,” said Rotarian Peter Kaurup, who is working to hold it as a scaled-down drive-by dinner. “We are dropping the charge to $20 a person. I’d like to serve at least 100 meals. At this point it’s more important to keep the tradition alive than make money from it.

“Normally we purchase the steaks through Oxford Casino but since they are closed for the time being we’ll just do lobster this year,” he said.

Kaurup has secured the parking lot at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School to hold Lobster Fest on Aug. 15. Rotary members will prepare the meals using the food truck and distribute them via curbside pickup.

“I’m working with local businesses to supply the food,” Kaurup said. “I expect that this year we’ll be able to do 100 meals. Our volunteers will practice social distancing and wear facial coverings as we distribute them.”

In previous years, people have been able to purchase tickets right up until the day of the fest. With tighter logistics and more expense, Kaurup said they will only be available in advance this year.

Another nonprofit facing financial challenges is Responsible Pet Care of Oxford Hills, which estimates it is down $30,000 in fundraising to date this year, according to President Shirley Boyce.

RPC has had to suspend all live fundraising events since COVID-19 hit: March Bingo, April and September auctions, the Toll Road in May, Kitten Shower in June, and Fun Dog Day.

Fun Dog Day should have taken place last week at the Oxford Fair Grounds. A daylong event, it has always featured a dog walk-athon, K-9 police/dog demonstrations, a dog show and other demonstrations as well as food and crafting vendors. The possibility of postponing and rescheduling had too many challenges so it was canceled for the year.

Responsible Pet Care of Oxford Hills called off its annual Kitten Shower due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Pet adoptions continue to be popular, though. Submitted photo

“There is not much we can do for fundraising right now,” Boyce said.

Instead, the RPC board is focusing on expanding its social media strategies and getting more out of its secondhand store, the Pawsibilities Thrift Shoppe. “We had to close the store in March, but it recently reopened with limited access. We will add shade canopies to encourage outdoor shopping, set it up like a yard sale.”

Boyle said RPC has also just started accepting donations for the thrift shop again. They can accept goods such as furniture, household items, books, toys and puzzles.

Another hardship RPC has endured since COVID-19 is the loss of volunteers. Shelter Manager Lucille Moffett normally maintains about a dozen or more volunteers to help at the shelter, caring for and feeding the animals and handling pet-to-family introductions, but had to be suspend the program during the pandemic.

Moffett said that recently a handful has been able to return to volunteer but she currently has no plans to ramp back up to previous levels. The building is too tight an enclosure for more than a few people at a time to safely social distance.

“We are doing pet introductions through Facebook as much as possible,” Boyce. “And meet-and-greets with potential adopters are all being done outside.

“Adoptions have been going well, even dogs that have clear behavioral and social challenges have been adopted by families who now have more time to devote to working through them,” Boyce said. “I do worry that some may be returned when people start spending less time at home. But so far we haven’t had a lot of returned pets, nor an increase in strays being picked up.”

Financial support sponsorships are still available and encouraged by the shelter.

“We accept cage sponsorships by the month or the year,” Moffett said. “People can sponsor cages that hold cats for $10 a month and for dogs for $35 a month.”

Cage sponsorships help defray the cost of food, vaccines, flea treatments and medical needs.

 

Pam Davison, moderator for the Norway Second Congregational Church’s annual yard sale hopes that the church will be able to recover lost revenue through its thrift store. Supplied photo

Like the Rotary Club  and Responsible Pet Care, the Second Congregational Church in Norway has had to call off its signature fundraiser, the Church Yard Sale.

“We have done it for 20 years and the line before we open is always a hundred people deep,” organizer Pam Davison said. “It is just a mad dash with all kinds of good stuff. But there is no way to manage it with social distancing so there will be no sale this August.”

Davison said she is funneling the items normally donated to the yard sale through the church’s thrift store, which opened last fall and had to close when nonessential businesses were shut down in March.

“We started the thrift store in one of the rooms of the church basement,” Davison said. “We were just getting established when we had to shut it down. But we’ve continued to take in goods through the winter.

“We plan to reopen it … July 3,” she said. “We have enough space down there to hold a number of people.”

Davison said volunteers will wear gloves and masks and have hand sanitizer available. Shoppers are being asked to wear masks as well. Traffic will be directed through separate entry and exit doorways.

Acquiring goods to sell has not been a problem.

“The community always donates good items,” Davison said. “We have space in the parsonage barn and have been adding inventory, but we are trying to be careful to not be overwhelmed. People have been doing lots of cleaning but we can’t take in more than our volunteers can process.”

Davison asks that people wishing to donate items to the church for resale call ahead to make arrangements.

Reopening the thrift store is a trial project, Davison said.

“We need shoppers to behave within the safety protocols,” she said. “Our church membership is older and many aren’t comfortable coming back out yet so we only have a few volunteers. If we are overwhelmed or feel it is not safe enough we will discontinue for the time being.”

The Second Congregational Church has also decided to forge ahead with its lobster fundraiser.

“We are still going to do our annual Lobster Roll Lunch from the church parking lot,” Davison said. It will be held Saturday, July 11, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

“It will be done the same as our free meal days, curbside pickup. It comes with lobster roll, chips, bottled water and home-baked brownies,” Davison said.


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