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David Paull’s Take Steps team that raises funds for the Michigan Chapter of the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation. (Courtesy of David Paull)

Organizations that help feed the hungry, award college scholarships and more have been thrown for a loop since the COVID-19 crisis began.

COVID-19 and the need for social distancing abruptly cancelled a slew of spring and summer fundraisers for local nonprofits — from golf outings to community walks — wiping out the anticipated revenue from those events and leaving organizations scrambling.

Many virtual events are popping up along with emergency fundraising campaigns that have raised millions of dollars, but organizations that help feed the hungry, award college scholarships, support medical research and provide a host of other critical services have been thrown for a loop since the COVID-19 crisis began.

Take the Michigan Jewish Sports Foundation, which raises money for annual college scholarships, the Karmanos Cancer Institute, Camp Mak-A-Dream and the Jewish Community Center. The foundation is reeling after being forced to cancel its 30th Annual Hank Greenberg Golf and Tennis Memorial Invitational, one of the premier golf outings of the summer. The event was set to take place June 8 at Franklin Hills Country Club. Last year’s outing raised $80,000.

Golfers Nate Forbes, Jeff Cohen, Steve Rosenthal, Jeff Cohen and Mike Stone at last year’s Hank Greenberg golf outing. (Courtesy of Michigan Jewish Sports Foundation)

“This is the first time in 30 years we’ve had to cancel the outing. This is devastating to our foundation and our operating budget,” said Sari Cicurel, the Michigan Jewish Sports Foundation’s executive director. “For the organizations we support, the need is still there.”
The foundation is still selling raffle tickets for the chance to attend the 2021 Masters and hosting a free virtual sports talk event May 20 with ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Mike Stone (aka Stoney), but it’s safe to say the coronavirus has thrown the organization off its game.

Feeding a Need

Pontiac-based Lighthouse, which provides emergency food, shelter and other support services for thousands of children, families and individuals in need across southeast Michigan, postponed its annual Rent Party scheduled for June and set a tentative date for August. A walk/run scheduled for fall and its annual Dancing With the Detroit Stars event are still up in the air.

“We raise close to $500,000 a year just from events,” said Lighthouse CEO Ryan Hertz. “Our events are also friend-raisers. They connect us with new donors — having to cancel prevents us from building those relationships.”

On top of the cancellations, COVID-19 created an urgent need for Lighthouse to ramp up its emergency food distribution efforts and find alternatives to its rotating shelter, which moves from various religious congregations each week. The nonprofit launched a crowdfunding campaign on its platform, HandUp, and raised more than $1 million toward a $1.5 million goal in less than eight weeks.

“The community’s response has been absolutely beautiful,” Hertz said. “For us, profit is social impact. The fact that we’ve been able to serve so many more people safely and successfully speaks to the generosity and compassion of our community.”

Yad Ezra makes deliveries with help from Jewish Family Service. (Courtesy of Yad Ezra)

As a result of the pandemic, Lighthouse went from serving 10,000 people a year to 5,000 a week. The organization continues to fundraise to meet the ongoing need. A 12-hour live streaming concert called Lighthouse LIVE, featuring performances from more than 50 Michigan musicians and entertainers, including Alice Cooper and Lily Tomlin, took place May 9. Ryan’s father, entertainment attorney Howard Hertz, helped organize the online event.

Yad Ezra, Michigan’s only kosher food pantry, switched to deliveries only and is now providing approximately 1,100 deliveries a month. Two grants from the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit helped get the organization through Passover. A virtual magic show took place May 3 supported by a long list of sponsors. The next major hurdle is Yad Ezra’s annual dinner, which raises $600,000 a year. It’s scheduled for Sept. 30.

“We don’t know if we’ll be able to raise the money,” said Yad Ezra’s executive director Lea Luger. “But I’m confident that the community recognizes and respects the work we do and won’t let us run out of food. I have faith in the Jewish community. They’ve been on this journey with us for 30 years.”

Walking the Walk

“We’re struggling,” said David Paull, board president of the Michigan Chapter of the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation (CCF).

The organization supports more than 100,000 Michigan patients annually and raises awareness and critical research dollars for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. The chapter’s spring fashion event at the Townsend Hotel has been pushed to August. The annual Take Steps Walk in June is cancelled nationwide and will now be held virtually.

“We are coming in significantly below our projected budget,” Paull explained. “It’s tough to ask people for money right now.”

He says his Take Steps team, which has been steadily growing since 2015, usually raises $15,000-$20,000 each year. Right now, they’re at $2,000.

A Lighthouse volunteer packs and sorts food. (Courtesy of Lighthouse)

The Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit is feeling it, too. Forty-five employees were furloughed as a result of the crisis, and a COVID-19 emergency task force was formed. The task force is being led by incoming Federation president Matt Lester and Dennis Bernard, president-elect of the United Jewish Foundation.

An emergency campaign was also launched to meet the needs of the community and Federation’s agencies. It raised more than $7 million in four weeks.

“It’s been a heavy lift,” Lester said. “But it’s probably the finest example I’ve seen of people coming together completely selflessly on behalf of the community and making a difference. We’ve had the strongest response in the country in terms of the emergency campaign. People were eager to help, and they still are.”

Lester acknowledged that much of the hard work is still ahead as this public health and economic crisis continues, but he commended Federation’s partner agencies, including the Jewish Community Center, Jewish Senior Life, Tamarack and the day schools, for initiating their own self-help programs. He also praised Federation’s staff for its exceptional capabilities during this tumultuous time.

“The rise to the occasion mentality among staff, agency professionals and lay leadership is unprecedented, and I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said. “It makes me very proud to be Jewish and a member of the Detroit Jewish community. This could be our finest moment.”

You Can Help

● Federation: jewishdetroit.org

● Lighthouse: lighthousemi.org/covid19

● Michigan Jewish Sports Foundation: michiganjewishsports.org

● Yad Ezra: yadezra.org

● Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation: crohnscolitisfoundation.org/chapters/Michigan

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