With this year’s MerleFest, Brushy Mountain Apple Festival and other fundraising events canceled due to COVID-19, local nonprofits are facing big financial challenges.

Nonprofits that address various issues in Wilkes badly need the support of those able to give.

It’s also a time for creative fundraising.

Relay for Life of Wilkes County is doing this in #NeighborsUniteNC to raise money for the American Cancer Society. People can support a very worthy cause by signing up to be Neighbors Unite! hosts or by purchasing luminaries (glo-sticks in bags) from a host for a suggested donation of $10 each.

Participants can decorate the bags and display them in driveways, along neighborhood streets and elsewhere in honor or in memory of someone on Sept. 20.

Small luminaria ceremonies, with appropriate social distancing, are also encouraged on Sept. 20 in lieu of the one big Wilkes Relay for Life gathering normally held each year. Stories and photos of these events can be shared on social media using #NeighborsUniteNC. 

Donations received for luminaries can be turned in to an American Cancer Society contact, who locally is Kelly Hurley (kelly.hurley@cancer.org or at 336-479-3608).

Community-based events like Relay for Life account for 35% of American Cancer Society funding for cancer research, which hits home for nearly every family.

The Boone-based Hospitality House, which addresses homelessness in Watauga, Wilkes, Ashe, Alleghany, Avery, Mitchell and Yancey counties, also met the creative fundraising challenge.

Hospitality House has had a “gourmet hot dog stand” at each MerleFest since 2016. Last year, volunteers sold over 4,300 hot dogs with over $17,000 in sales. It was a natural for Hospitality House to have a “Big Dog Fundraiser” contest on Facebook and an online hot dog stand.

Contest participants set up personal fundraising pages for Hospitality House. The person who raised the most money by Aug. 30 gets to eat for free all weekend at the Hospitality House hot dog stand at MerleFest 2021.

Instead of actually getting a hotdog, people who made donations to Hospitality House at the virtual hot dog stand will get free bags of chips at the next MerleFest.

Local nonprofits have adjusted their fundraising in various other ways due to COVID-19. Many groups with barbecue chicken benefits (chickenques) distribute these meals on a drive-by basis.

Life Walk Carolina pregnancy centers, including the Wilkes Pregnancy Care Center in North Wilkesboro, teamed up for a virtual fundraiser walk in late June. In Wilkes, a local donor agreed to match all funds raised up to $25,000. The event helped increase awareness of the pregnancy centers, which offer free pregnancy tests, abortion education and confidential support for those experiencing an unexpected pregnancy.

Many nonprofit organizations elsewhere have held online live or silent auctions, some with door prizes. Local restaurants and retailers benefit when their gift cards are sold. Galas with guest speakers can also be held online.

A food pantry in another state held a benefit in which people could order dinner from one of six local restaurants to enjoy at home while watching a virtual celebration with music, a silent auction and stories of families served by the pantry.

These alternative formats don’t cost organizers as much and allow broader public participation.

Nonprofits that respond to the pandemic’s upheaval with open-mindedness and optimism may experience surprisingly successful results.

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