The organization has turned to virtual fundraising since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, raising money for FoodShare, funding scholarships for local high school graduates, and much more.
By Dexter McCann
When the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States for the first time, the Greater Hartford area Lions Club was struck with a dilemma. The club’s biggest fundraiser, a Pancake breakfast planned for the last Sunday in April in West Hartford, had to be cancelled. Many local businesses, however, had already purchased spots in the fundraiser’s ad book, with many as large as a page long.
Presented with a seemingly no win situation, the Lions Club managed to find a creative solution. The Club managed to digitize the ad book, making it available in virtual space. Although the in-person breakfast couldn’t happen, the Club managed to raise proceeds to donate to Foodshare, the American School for the Deaf, local area high schoolers, and many other organizations as a result of their ad book ingenuity.
Like many organizations, the Lions Club has had to alter the way they’ve conducted affairs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, that hasn’t prevented them from carrying out their mission, which is simply “to serve,” with an emphasis on supporting the local community.
One organization the Lions Club has always supported is Foodshare, and their fundraising efforts have ramped up in proportion to the severity of the hunger crisis brought upon by the pandemic. The Club has donated $4,000 to Foodshare over the past year, with $3,000 of that being donated since March.
Foodshare has been providing free meals throughout the crisis at a drive-through located by Rentschler Field in East Hartford. They’ve waived all typical restrictions regarding the families they give those meals to, meaning those who’ve seen their wages lost due to COVID-19 are eligible to receive support, even if they’d normally fail to qualify for meal assistance.
Foodshare feeds 130,000 families in Hartford and Tolland county every year according to Andrew Stern, a member of the Greater Hartford Lions club and recipient of the Melvin Jones Fellowship, the highest honor presented by Lions International. Stern, a West Hartford resident who represents the Lions Club in the town’s Chamber of Commerce, has been instrumental in strengthening the bonds between the Club and Foodshare over the past couple years.
“I am a very active volunteer with Foodshare, and I know Jason Jakubowski, the CEO and President of Foodshare, very well,” said Stern.
Stern has also plays a role in managing the Lowenberg scholarship, awarded to Hartford area high school seniors that are pursuing higher education. The Lions Club gives away two Lowenberg scholarships, worth $2,500 a piece, each year.
In 2020, the two recipients of the Lowenberg scholarship were Ashaleigh Pitter and Zoe Kleeblatt. Pitter, the valedictorian at Hartford High School, will be attending the University of Connecticut this upcoming semester. Kleeblatt, who recently graduated from Wethersfield High School, will be attending Dickinson College this fall.
Sadly, several of the upcoming Lions Club fundraisers have been postponed. The club had planned on holding a wine tasting this fall, but COVID-19 has thrown a wrench into those plans. The group intended on raising money for Foodshare by selling french fries at Celebrate West Hartford, but the cancellation of the festival brought an end to that idea.
“It’s not feasible, of course with what’s going on. It attracts a couple hundred people. It involves food, it involves a band … I just don’t think we can do it,” said Stern, speaking about plans for fall wine tasting.
Still, the Greater Hartford Lions Club and its members remain optimistic that they’ll be able to continue serving their community in this time of need. Weekly meetings have been moved online, and the members of the group are still committed to fundraising for a list of organizations and causes, which includes the American School for the Deaf, Oak Hill School, Fidelco, and West Hartford Community Television.
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