Pandemic pause for civic clubs

Pictured is the civic organization sign along Route 3 by the Monroe County Annex on Illinois Avenue in Waterloo.

As businesses and individuals have coped with financial hardship from the coronavirus pandemic, the same is true for community organizations. 

“Basically, we’re at a standstill,” Waterloo Optimist Club Treasurer Quinn Rodenberg summarized.

Tim Gutknecht, the program chair and youth chair for the Columbia Rotary Club, said his nonprofit is facing “significant” fundraising problems.

“Our bank account hasn’t been this low since right before my first term as president 10 years ago,” he said. 

Organizations have been forced to cancel many of their typical fundraisers due to health guidelines and limits on gatherings to help slow the spread of COVID-19, which has led to many of their fiscal difficulties. 

“We have not been able to have our major fundraisers due to COVID and not being able to have large gatherings,” House of Neighborly Service Executive Director Tina Charron explained. “That has cut into our budget quite significantly.” 

Waterloo Lions Club President Sherry Cates noted that organizers canceled her club’s three biggest fundraisers, Waterloo Homecoming, the Monroe County Fair and the Porta Westfalica Festival, which normally raise around $12,500 for the club. 

“That is a large amount of our income that we give back out to the community,” she said. 

In the face of these historic challenges, nonprofits have not yet turned en masse to online fundraisers or events that would require fewer people to earn income. 

“If this continues into next year, I’m sure we’ll toy around with doing something like that,” Rodenberg said. 

Nevertheless, a few organizations have started holding smaller fundraisers. 

The Columbia Rotary Club and HNS, for example, recently sold barbecue to raise money, with the former organization netting about $1,000 thanks to “very generous” patrons, per Gutknecht. 

But the Rotary club would typically have held its mouse derby, its biggest fundraiser, by this point in the year. 

“Trying to make up an $8,000-$10,000 event that you count on to fund activities, it really makes a difference,” said Gutknecht, who is also the assistant district governor for Rotary in this area. “We may have just lost this year.” 

Most of the nonprofit leaders also said they have not seen an impact on donations, though that is because they do not ask for them. 

HNS, however, reported an increase of donations in the past six months. 

“Even though fundraisers haven’t been happening, our donors have still been blessing us,” Charron said. “There’s been a small drop in some donations, but other donations are coming in — like when people got their stimulus money and wanted to make sure it went to us.” 

To date, community organizations have not had operations affected too much by their inability to make money.

That is sometimes due to a more thrifty use of funds on the organization’s part. 

HNS has put a $200 cap on what it is providing to clients to stretch its donations, and Cates said the Waterloo Lions Club has held back from making donations to ensure it has enough money to continue normal giving. 

“It will never stop us, I don’t think, from helping those in our community who need eyeglasses,” Cates stressed. “We’re not at a total stop, but there is a definite impact. We’ll make it.” 

Other leaders reported seeing less demand than normal for their help, which has allowed them to stretch their funds.

“We’re still giving out some money, but people haven’t been coming to us for money like they used to,” Rodenberg said. 

“I think they realized everybody’s been tapped.”

“Our club likes to be generous,” Gutknecht added. “We like to be able to help groups and people when they come to us. We’re not in the position to do it, but we haven’t had that many people asking either.” 

But the community leaders said that can only last so long, and they are bracing for little revenue for months to come. 

Cates and Gutknecht did not expect to be able to hold large fundraisers until at least a few months into 2021, while Charron gave a similar estimate. 

“I would say the effects are going to go well into next year,” she said. 

Rodenberg was a little more optimistic, noting the Optimists have not yet had to turn anyone away for a donation and has enough of a reserve to fund current scholarship obligations. 

“I think, no matter what happens next year, we will try to do everything we can to get every one of our events back on,” he said. “You would hope by next year in September we could certainly do the bull ride, but you never know.” 

In the meantime, each organization is holding various fundraisers and drives before the end of the year. 

The Columbia Rotary Club has its annual fruit sale and will host a food drive later this month. It is also accepting donations. For more information, find the club on Facebook. 

“There’s still a need for people to serve their community,” Gutknecht said. “That need hasn’t gone away, and it may be higher now than before the pandemic.” 

The Waterloo Optimist Club still plans to hold its Christmas tree lot, Toys for Tots campaign and giving tree at Outsider’s in Waterloo. 

“I know so many people are out of work, but there are so many people who have been unfortunate for much longer,” Rodenberg said. “There’s so many people who have spent most of their lives with little to nothing, and we’ve got to keep those people going. This year has affected a lot more people than ever, but there are people who have always been affected.”

The Waterloo Lions Club is accepting donations via mail at P.O. Box 254 in Waterloo, and it is receiving a portion of the proceeds from profits bought online at 

House of Neighborly Service is accepting monetary donations and food donations for its food drive. For more information, visit 

“Some people lost jobs they had for 30 years, and they just need a little help to get over that hurdle so they can get back on their feet,” Charron said, adding the nonprofit needs help “just to be able to continue to support the community.” 

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