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FOOD ITEMS are free for the taking outside Pantry Plus of Seneca County on a recent afternoon. Pantry Plus is one of many area nonprofits feeling squeezed by a lack of fundraising and an increase in people calling upon its services. (Provided photo)

By BRENNA GRITEMAN

For The Review Times

Every Wednesday evening, a dedicated bunch of bingo players turns out for some competitive fun to support Pantry Plus of Seneca County, a “choice pantry” that allows clients to come pick out food once a month.

Or at least it did, until the COVID-19 pandemic put a stop to social gatherings.

Director Stacy LaFountaine says the cancellation of those bingo nights brought with it a massive drop in fundraising for the pantry, whose clients are relying on it now more than ever to fill a need brought on by the pandemic.

“So many nonprofits are seeing an increase in demand for their services. The demand hasn’t changed, and in some cases, it’s going up dramatically,” said Brian Treece, program director, community and organizational development and evaluation, with the Findlay-Hancock County Community Foundation.

Mix this with a decrease in fundraising and overall cash donations, and it’s a recipe for disaster for many of the approximately 50 to 55 nonprofits the Community Foundation works with in a given year.

Treece said while many families are facing financial hardship and an uncertain future, even a small donation can make a big difference for the charities responding during this pandemic.

“It’s not a question of being able to make a huge gift,” he said. “People still need those organizations. They still need the services they offer.”

LaFountaine said Pantry Plus is generally open every Friday, and clients can come once a month to fill their bags with donated food. Since the pandemic, clients can come more often.

She said the bingo games are the agency’s only formal form of fundraising. The pantry is not a United Way agency, and does not receive government funds.

“We have a wonderful base of bingo players that come out and support us every week,” she said. “I would guess anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000 we’ve lost” to the pandemic.

Cash donations are still coming in, and LaFountaine noted “we have a lot of churches that have gone out on a limb with some food drives for us.”

In March, the pantry served 272 households. That number jumped to 334 in April. A drive-thru food giveaway in April attracted nearly 600 vehicles, and another held last week reached nearly 1,000 people, she said.

Hancock Literacy had to cancel its annual community spelling bee, a signature fundraiser that typically brings in about $10,000.

“Probably the most disappointing thing was, we were on a roll,” executive director Shannon Andersen said of the spelling bee, in what would have been its 31st year.

Spelling bee organizers had been striving for 20 teams in the year 2020 for a spell-off scheduled for May 20. She said the event usually attracts about 14 teams, and 17 had signed up by the time this year’s bee was canceled. Andersen noted Hancock Literacy emailed each team registered and asked them to consider submitting their registration fee as a donation, rather than seeking a refund.

Andersen explained Hancock Literacy coordinates and supports local initiatives aimed at promoting lifelong literacy. Its most recognized service is overseeing and providing funding for the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, which mails an age-appropriate book to children’s homes once a month, from birth to age 5. There are over 2,300 kids enrolled in the Hancock County program, but Andersen said it is currently serving just half of the eligible children in the county. She said a $25 sponsorship serves one child for one year.

Hancock Literacy also operates a community books initiative that provides books to any child whose family is being served by Hope House, City Mission or Chopin Hall. During the pandemic, the program has been expanded to provide books to children being served through the YMCA’s Feed-A-Child program.

Monetary donations can be made at hancockliteracy.org, where donors can specify which program they would like their dollars to support. Used books can be donated and are distributed to local doctor’s office waiting rooms.

Gliding Stars of Findlay, an adaptive ice skating program for kids with disabilities, was forced the close the curtain on its annual ice show set for late March.

Executive Director Cindy Bregel said ticket and raffle sales for the show account for the agency’s largest annual fundraiser and generate $7,500 to $10,000. Another $8,000 had already been put into T-shirts, medals and awards.

“Financially, definitely by not having the show, that’s a pretty big hit on our annual income,” Bregel said.

But, because the sets are already designed, the T-shirts ordered and the show coordinated, Gliding Stars’ 50 skaters — and 78 volunteers — will present this year’s show next spring. Any tickets already sold will be honored at the 2021 performance.

Bregel said early on, as coronavirus concerns began to crop up in America, Gliding Stars had concerns regarding the population it serves. She said while the skaters themselves were disappointed to cancel the show, the decision was an easy one.

“We’ll just pick up where we left off” next year, she said. “As a program going forward, we’ve got to think about the health and safety of our Stars.”

Bregel added tickets for the basket raffles will be sold through May 22, with the winners to be announced via Facebook Live on June 4. Each of the eight themed baskets is worth over $500 and can be viewed on the Gliding Stars Facebook page. Contact Bregel through Facebook, or at 419-306-5327 or cindy.bregel@gmail.com, to purchase tickets.

brennagriteman@thecourier.com

Twitter: @BrennaGriteman

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