Fellowship Becomes More Remote — Blame COVID-19

Ellen Torres

Fewer activities, fewer funds, less companionship.
That’s the mantra many civic organizations around town are unhappily chanting these days.
I was in touch with several groups, and all are facing similar concerns during the current COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are a community service focused on serving our youth,” said Ernie Arnold, president of Kiwanis Club. “Our programs are designed to build leadership and community service. Community is built by interaction. Community cannot be built remotely. Through interaction we get to know each other. … We laugh and cry together. We share successes and setbacks. This is what builds community and relationships.

Ernie Arnold

“Clubs like Kiwanis can sustain themselves with members who have built those relationships, but it is difficult to build and grow a club unless we find a way to build community during these difficult times of separation.”
Kiwanis, like many groups, is holding its meetings remotely.
“We are working on virtual service projects and fundraising, but again we are having mixed results,” he said.
Beverly Biber of the Woman’s Club said the lack of in-person meetings has taken a toll on that organization, too.
“The COVID restrictions have basically closed down all the usual club activities as well as a meeting place,” she said. “The lost revenue has been significant, but the closing down of the monthly meetings and gathering as volunteers in friendship and service has taken a toll, especially on some of our infirm and older members.”
The Friends of the South Pasadena Library, which provides funds and organizational support for the library, has been hit hard by the pandemic.
The group issued a plea to the community to help it overcome a $32,000 shortfall in revenue, and so far it has received $10,000. The revenue from the deficit does not include the sale of tickets for the Restoration Concert series at the library sponsored by the Friends. The concerts for 2020 were canceled and the 2021 series is on hold.
“We are currently working on the Friends’ 2022 budget and we are hopeful we will not have to cut library services that we help pay for,” reported Ellen Torres, the group’s president. “I think the impact has been huge, but we have made adjustments.”
She worries about the prospects for reopening the library bookstore after the library is allowed to reopen.
“Due to the age of most of our bookstore volunteers, we are not sure we could even staff it once the library opens,” she said. “We are actually on zero bookstore funds for the 2021 budget.”
Tiger Bingo players have withdrawal syndrome because the games — played indoors — have closed down. David Zeiger, bingo president, said Tiger Bingo — which helps funds activities at South Pasadena High School — averages around $15,000 net profit per month. He noted that the ironic “good news” is that because of distance learning at the school, most of the activities the SPHS Booster Club supports are on hiatus.
The group has looked into other options, but all ideas carry either logistical or health risks. Zeiger is now hoping that the games might continue by summer in the new high school gymnasium.
“I get calls every week from players hoping to hear good news and, unfortunately, I have to tell them we are still closed,” he said.
Then there are the missed chances for friendship and fundraising.
The South Pasadena Chinese-American Club since March has had all its activities impacted, including the annual fundraising gala — the Moon Festival — and participation in the Fourth of July parade and picnic.
The club was fortunate enough to have money in reserve to give out the full scholarships it does every year.
The same situation existed for Vecinos. It missed out on a Hollywood Bowl summer social outing, Fourth of July food booth, Day of the Dead fundraiser and quarterly Farmers Market kids craft activities.
It did have what group President Janna Philpot called a “very successful” booth at the city event called “Spook Through.” It lowered the amount, but still gave $6,000 in scholarships, and the group still has money available for scholarships in 2021.
All isn’t doom and gloom for any of these groups. One group that thrived during the pandemic was D.U.D.E.S. — Dads Uniting Dads in Education and Service. The group did a “Take the Parade to the People” fundraiser in which a caravan of club members traveled city streets on July 4 and performed “We Will Rock You” on a trailer to more than 20 families in town who donated money. Ed Donnelly, club president emeritus, said the group raised $28,000 for the PTA’s personal protective equipment program. The group, along with several other organizations, organized a program to provide free grocery deliveries to vulnerable city residents. (I can testify to the effectiveness of — and offer a tip of the hat to — my deliverers, Leanne and Per Annell.) More than 200 residents joined me, and the D.U.D.E.S supplied web-based logistics to accept orders and dispatch volunteers.
Here are some good and not-so-good things that have happened to civic organizations in this eventful year — with apologies to those groups that I did not reach out to:

SPEF: South Pasadena Educational Foundation recently wrote donors that it was able to give more than $677,000 to city schools last year. President Michael Mayne noted that in the past two years SPEF gifts have helped fund science, computer and engineering pathways for elementary, middle and high schools; a visual and performing arts coordinator for all five schools; and mindfulness and anti-bias training for students and teachers.
South Pasadena Chinese-American Club: The club donated 5,000 free face shields that read “South Pasadena Strong” throughout the community. The group each year provides $15,000 in grants to the South Pasadena Unified School District for teachers, administrators, counselors, sports, music departments, boosters and PTA. This year, President Yuki Cutcheon said the entire sum will be donated directly to the district so the money can benefit the most students and have the greatest impact. The club co-hosted — along with the League of Women Voters — a virtual forum for school board candidates.
Woman’s Club: The group made and distributed 5,000 masks for health-care workers at various health organizations in the area and also contributed masks to the Auntie Sewing Squad, which has contributed thousands of masks nationwide.
A “Love of Chocolate” event in February raised $8,000. The group for the last several months has been hosting virtual bingo games via Zoom, and also raised money for scholarships with a virtual tea where members and friends could enjoy a cup of tea at their home. Tea bags were mailed out with an envelope for donations. Those activities raised just over $4,000.
Vecinos: Speaking of virtual drinking, the Vecinos hosted a virtual “Cinco de Mayo” happy hour dubbed Corona de Mayo, and Loteria (Mexican bingo) online.
Friends of the Library: The group’s membership drive for this year was just about done when the library was forced to close, and Torres said totals were just short of the group’s goals. The next membership drive starts in December, and Torres said that will test how much the pandemic has hurt donations and has caused a loss of members.
Editor’s note: The message from merchants standing in front of their stores last Saturday was: Please remember to support downtown small businesses.