Last year Rainbow House, an emergency shelter for children in Columbia, held its annual Masquerade Ball in April to raise money to support its mission. The elaborate affair at the Holiday Inn Executive Center ballroom raised $90,000.

This year, the fundraiser was scheduled for April 4, smack in the middle of the raging coronavirus outbreak. So it was postponed and has yet to be rescheduled because of limits on group gatherings and other restrictions.

Now, there’s a $90,000 hole in the organization’s budget.

“It’s definitely been a struggle this year, so being creative has almost been a must for us,” said Richie Vanskike, director of development at Rainbow House.

Service organizations and nonprofits like the children’s shelter have felt the impact of the coronavirus on their efforts to raise money for both their own operations and to benefit the community.

They haven’t stopped looking for ways to continue their work, but it’s been challenging.

Rainbow House has been selling T-shirts and masks and recently held a charity golf tournament. But Vanskike said his sister, Sarah, and her husband, Kent Henry, came up with the most successful idea.

The two staged a competition to see who could raise the most money for the shelter.

Vanskike’s sister started a “save or shave” campaign among her social media followers, asking them to vote with monetary donations on whether to keep her hair or shave it off.

“She ended up shaving it off,” Vanskike said.

Henry agreed to shave one strand of hair off his head if someone donated $50 to the shelter. The cause went viral on social media, and he ultimately raised over $11,000. Together, the couple raised more than $25,000 for Rainbow House.

Meanwhile in March, the Kiwanis Club was arranging its annual Pancake Day when the pandemic threw a curve and the event was canceled.

“That’s our biggest fundraiser for the year,” said Valerie Shaw, club president. “All the clubs in Columbia get together to put that on.”

All the proceeds benefit organizations in Columbia, such as the Nora Stewart Early Learning Center.

“We purchase iPads for them; we do service hours,” Shaw said. “Prior to (the coronavirus), a volunteer would read to the kids every week.”

Many members of the Kiwanis Club are retirement age, a group at high risk for infection from the virus. Protecting the volunteers while fulfilling their service commitments has required patience and flexibility.

Instead of face-to-face meetings, Kiwanis has resorted to Zoom sessions every Tuesday, and Shaw said the club continues to attract the same number of members.

“I really commend the members for their ability to be flexible and still committed to our purpose,” she said. “We continue to focus on helping kids.”

The Rotary Club of Columbia has also been forced to cancel events and limit its fundraising, said former president Neil Carr.

The club tries to raise around $10,000 a year, but this year only $5,000 has been raised, mostly through a turkey fry last Thanksgiving. Club members cooked and sold 126 turkeys and donated 50, netting $3,000 in the process.

“We ended up feeding possibly close to 1,000 people,” Carr said.

The club raised another $2,000 with a pass-the-hat drive within the organization. The money bought a water heater for Welcome Home, a living community for homeless veterans.

The club had planned a shrimp boil in March in conjunction with the Knights of Columbia, but it was canceled.

Instead, Rotary is focusing on community service and beautifying parts of the city, Carr said. There will be a whiskey-tasting event this weekend, but it will be limited to 30 guests.

Because the group is a mix of younger professionals and retirees, the club must also be careful about safeguarding its members. Like many organizations, the club has turned to virtual meetings.

“We had to take a week or two off to get our bearings and switch up our guest speakers,” Carr said.

The speaker schedule was refilled, and most members did get on board with the technology, he said.

At the Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri, volunteers can no longer help distribute food because of the risk. With a grant from the Missouri Foundation for Health, the Food Bank has been able to continue operating with temporary workers, said Seth Wolfmeyer, the communication and marketing manager.

“That has been a big help for us,” Wolfmeyer said. “It allows us to keep our volunteers safe.”

The Missouri National Guard has also spent 13,689 hours distributing food for them, he said.

“Those two things are part of the reason why we are still able to keep things going, and we have been blessed with that,” Wolfmeyer said.

Voluntary Action Center Director Nick Foster said donations are actually up across the board for the center, but it will take a community effort to get through the uncertainty of a pandemic. The Voluntary Action Center works with most community service groups in Columbia.

“I am confident that the community can rise up and meet his head on,” Foster said. “We have a lot of great people in this community that want to help out, and it’s really shown during this time.”

  • I am a graduate student at the University of Missouri. I graduated from Ashland University in Ashland, Ohio in 2019 with a BA in Digital Media Journalism. I was a swimmer for 13 years, and I love music and writing.

  • As managing editor, I work with the staff to put together a daily report that reflects what happens in the community, what people are talking about and what issues engage them. Email: abbottjm@missouri.edu; phone: 573-882-4164.

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