Westerville nonprofits shift gears to raise donations during pandemic

Marla K. Kuhlman
ThisWeek group
Leo Moidu, son of Colleen Moidu, executive director of the Westerville Education Foundation, reads a book he had received as part of the StoryBox program.

The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has changed the way nonprofits have raised money for their causes. 

The Westerville Education Foundation has tried to be nimble and responsive, said Colleen Moidu, executive director. 

“In April, our largest fundraising event of the year (An Artful Affair) had to be canceled,” she said. “At that time, we decided to use our resources to support organizations that were meeting critical needs for our families and raised more than $20,000 for WARM (Westerville Area Resource Ministry) and neighborhood bridges.”

After that, Moidu said, the foundation turned its attention to other needs that educators were seeing and focused on fundraising for some specific programs, including StoryBox, which was a partnership with Westerville Partners for Education and neighborhood bridges.

This program provided books to students in kindergarten to third grade who have been recommended for summer intervention to help prevent "summer slide" and support summer learning during the extended time away from the classroom, Moidu said.

She said the foundation also collaborated with Westerville Partners for Education, Westerville City Schools and the Westerville Public Library on the Many Voices: Diverse Classroom Book Project.

According to the foundation's website on the topic, "diverse collections, in this context, are defined as books with protagonists and experiences that feature underrepresented ethnicities, disabilities, cultural or religious backgrounds, gender nonconformity, or LGBTQIA+ orientations."

“Our educators were passionate about bringing these books and important conversations around equity and inclusion into their classrooms,” Moidu said.

She said many sponsors and supporters needed to take a break in 2020 or reduce their contributions, whereas others saw the increased need and were able to continue to support the programs they care deeply about.  

“We are so grateful to all of our supporters,” Moidu said. “We also put additional emphasis this year on seeking grant funding for specific programs and helping educators apply for grants from foundations and funding sources other than the WEF.”  

During the past year, she said, the foundation received support from the Gemmer Foundation and the Cultivating Success Fund, a fund created by a group of Westerville alumni, for Many Voices and a State Farm Good Neighbor grant for Academic Allies. 

“We helped Hawthorne Hackers Club apply for and receive an award from the Columbus Foundation,” Moidu said. “We also did the Columbus Foundation’s Big Give this year for the first time. So this year gave us a chance to get more connected digitally and online and to explore new funding sources.”

She said the foundation’s largest supporters, Mount Carmel St. Ann's, Alliance Data and Education First Credit Union, were instrumental in getting the organization through the past year.  

“Academic Allies is another way that we switched gears,” Moidu said. “We focused on bringing volunteer resources to our students in addition to funding resources.”

Caring & Sharing

Mary Pugh, vice president of Westerville Caring & Sharing, said the community-centered nonprofit organization experienced many changes in 2020, some good and some not so good.

“But we are very grateful to our Westerville community for stepping up and helping us make sure that our families in Westerville had a wonderful holiday,” she said.

The organization reaches out to Westerville City Schools students and families who are in need, and its purpose is to help people get back on their feet, especially around back-to-school and holiday time, according to the group’s website, westervillecaringandsharing.org.

“Our donations this year were definitely down quite a bit,” Pugh said. “We couldn't hold any type of large-group events to generate donations. Many of the social groups that typically help us were in the same situation.”

She said Westerville’s three high schools were unable to do their large donation drives that traditionally include a day for the students to shop for gifts and a large assembly at the end.

“Many of the students donated on our ‘donation button’ through our website, and we are extremely grateful for their kindness and generosity,” Pugh said. “I wish the public could see just how amazing these students are year after year. They pour their heart and soul into making sure that the children of Westerville have something for the holiday. Their kindness, love and dedication give me hope for our future.”

She said the community also responded to Caring & Sharing’s plea for help, allowing every family who had asked for help by the deadline to receive assistance.

“We were not able to provide actual gifts this year, but we were able to provide a gift card for each child so that their parent could purchase a gift and a gift card to each family for groceries since we were unable to gather and pack food boxes,” Pugh said. “We are thankful and grateful that we live in a community like Westerville. We know that we could not do these projects without the help of the community, and the community comes through for us each and every year.”

She said there’s no doubt the past year was a little different, but it showed now more than ever that the community is an amazing one and always is willing to work together as one. 

“I think that living in a community where each of us takes care of each other is the best gift anyone can have,” Pugh said.

mkuhlman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekMarla