Thursday, February 28, 2019 ~ Updated 5:39 PM
Vital to the culture of a community are its not-for-profits and charities. These organizations help lift up the needy, provide support to the afflicted, commemorate the past, elevate well-being, brighten the mundane, open new possibilities and entertain. Much of their work relies on volunteers and outside financial help. And businesses, through providing volunteers, donations, sponsorships, strategic assistance and more, help these organizations and the communities they serve, thrive.
Identify a community with strong not-for-profits and charities, where businesses look beyond their own bottom lines to help, and you're likely to find a community that prospers and excels.
Fundraising is certainly a major part of a not-for-profit's responsibilities: the oxygen that enables it to live and grow. And in Southeast Missouri, millions of dollars are raised annually, oftentimes in fun style. This story takes a look at a few of B Magazine's Top Fundraisers in the region. The commonality is 100 percent of the funds raised go to a specific not-for-profit or charity; a great event where only a portion of the proceeds go to charity did not qualify for this list. Other than that, the following (in no particular order) are some of the events that caught our eye for being unique, fun and raising significant money. We hope you learn something new. If you know of an event you think we should consider for next year, please let us know.
Mayfest Perryville, Missouri
In Southeast Missouri on Mother's Day weekend, one of the best places to be is Perryville for the annual Mayfest. This two-day event is the largest fundraiser for the Perryville Chamber of Commerce. From a big band to bed races, carnival rides to a craft fair, they kick it all off with a Friday-night parade, turning the historic square into a festival of family fun. Jackie Wengert, executive director of the Perryville Chamber, credits the many sponsors and volunteers for the event's success. The hype is increased by inviting other Perryville organizations to host their own activities during the weekend, and they do, from quilt shows to history presentations, plant sales, a 5K run and the area's big soccer tournament. Result: The Chamber's annual operating budget is kept on track. Total amount? Jackie isn't saying, but it's clearly successful.
Kenny Rogers Children's Center Telethon
The Kenny Rogers Children's Center in Sikeston provides care to children with special needs at no cost to the family. Assisting with needs caused by prematurity, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, autism and other developmental delays, the center offers a wide array of state-of-the-art services. Its big fundraiser is an annual telethon, broadcast on cable television and streamed online, raising more than $350,000 in 2018. The event, hosted at the Sikeston High School Field House, has included activities in the past such as a "Family Feud" competition, baby crawl race, hula hoop contest, silent auction, dog show and fitness "throw down." This year's event takes place March 16 and 17 and is themed "Lights, Camera, Action!"
VintageNOW Fashion Show
The VintageNOW Fashion Show raises funds annually for Safehouse for Women in Cape Girardeau, a domestic violence agency providing safe shelter, 24-hour crisis hotline services, intensive case management, counseling, court advocacy, referral services and education programs. The event, founded in partnership with Pastimes Antiques, raised more than $90,000 in 2018 and $440,000 since its inception. Attendance at the 2018 event, themed "The Big Show," was more than 2,000. A night full of throbbing music, cheering, oohs and aahs, the event continues to raise the bar on fun and philanthropy.
Throughout Southeast Missouri, hospital balls and cancer walks raise millions of dollars. In Cape Girardeau alone, more than $750,000 is raised annually by three distinct cancer galas. The first, held a few weeks after New Year's, is the SoutheastHEALTH "Journey Gala." It is themed each year to a specific international city -- Rio de Janeiro in 2019, Marrakesh in 2018 -- and features a celebrity keynote address. For the past two years, its dinner and auction have been at the Drury Plaza Convention Center. A little more than a month later is the Saint Francis "Friends Gala," which historically has raised the most money and has been located at the Isle Casino Events Center. In the fall, the American Cancer Society hosts its "Cancer Gala," which moves each year to a new location, from an airport hangar and runway with jets and fast cars in 2016 to a charming farm venue in 2017 or the elegant atrium of Southeast Missouri State's River Campus in 2018. Funds from the two hospital events stay local, providing needed assistance to patients from throughout the region. The American Cancer Society event also provides local assistance, but most of the funds it raises go to broader education and research. Keys to the success of all three events are donations to auctions by dozens of businesses -- and generous attendees willing to open their wallets to bid.
The big kahuna of school fundraisers in the region is Notre Dame's "Activity Week" festivities. In 2018, more than $300,000 was raised for the Catholic high school through class dinners serving an average of 1,200 attendees per night, raffle sales and more. Both the Cape Girardeau and Jackson school district foundations also host big events, featuring elegant attire, music, auctions and dancing. Jackson's is the "Red and Black Affair;" Cape's is the "The Penguin Party." Funds raised by the foundations go to teacher grants and other innovative projects outside the normal budget.
The Polar Plunge
Some folks say the colder the outdoor temperature gets, the warmer an unfrozen lake feels when jumping in. Of course, getting out of the water into the wind and cold is another matter. On Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019, temperatures in Cape Girardeau dropped to 10 degrees Fahrenheit (before windchill). Thankfully, by that weekend it was in a relatively balmy range, 36 to 52 degrees, as more than 130 people took the polar plunge into Trail of Tear's Lake Boutin to raise funds for Special Olympics. Participants, many clad in costumes fitting the year's theme, were judged on style and technique. The event raised nearly $40,000. Penny Williams with the Cape Girardeau Parks and Recreation Department helps organize Special Olympics in the area. She said all proceeds from the plunge support 11,000 athletes from 14 counties in Southeast Missouri, paying for items like uniforms, travel costs and lodging. "What I love about the event, " Williams said, "is that people go out of their comfort zone to benefit someone else."
Among B Magazine's other recent favorites are the various Pin-ups and Cruise-ins in Perryville, which help support the historic downtown. Also in Perryville, not exactly a fundraiser event yet, but something worth noting: the construction of Missouri's National Veterans Memorial. Jim and Charlene Eddleman were instrumental in donating land and making the memorial a reality; businesses like The Bank of Missouri, which has made a commitment of $300,000 over three years to the memorial, also play a central role in turning the dream into reality.
In Jackson, the annual Oktoberfest benefits the Uptown Jackson Revitalization Organization, while in Cape Girardeau, the Charles L. Hutson Auction is a rip-roaring event raising funds for Old Town Cape. The United Way of Southeast Missouri also knows how to celebrate, recognizing donors, agencies and volunteers at its annual Kickoff Party. Last year, the Cape-based United Way, which serves clients in Cape Girardeau, Scott, Bollinger and Perry counties, raised just under $900,000 through its annual campaign. And at Southeast Missouri State University's River Campus, the annual Senior Showcase, a cabaret performance by graduating seniors, helps raise funds for theater students to travel to auditions in New York City. In 2018, a special "USO performance" featuring the Jerry Ford Orchestra also raised funds for Southeast faculty and students to produce an original musical at the New York Music Festival. Result: The show, "An American Hero," won Best of Festival.
Charities and not-for-profits do vital work helping our communities. But they couldn't do it without resources, and Southeast Missouri businesses help by making donations and pitching in where needed. It's a kind of philanthropy that is unique in the world, where other countries look mainly to government. Among the American heroes: businesses and business leaders who care and act.