Norwich Rotary No Show Gala helps fund more than 1,000 coats for needy kids

Norwich – Organizing a fundraiser gala takes a lot of time, volunteers and upfront money, and those who attend need to figure out what to wear and how much to bid on silent auction items solicited from local businesses.

Norwich Rotary Foundation has avoided all that with its “No Show Gala,” an effort to raise $8,500 for the organization’s annual Coats for Kids program. The foundation provided 1,100 coats to children in Norwich public and private schools and various family and human services agencies last October.

The program’s overall goal is to raise $18,000 for the 2018 coat program, coat drive Chairman Rodney Green said. The No-Show Gala drive has a goal of $8,500, and Rotary will hold other fundraisers and seek small foundation grants from local organizations to add to the total.

“The No Show Gala invites you to stay home for a good cause,” the introductory statement said on the gala’s website, https://www.givinggrid.com/no-show-gala-2018/. “No need to buy a dress, shine your shoes, or get a baby sitter. Don't worry about getting there on time, being fashionably late, or showing up at all. Instead, you can stay home and help the Norwich Rotary Club keep kids in Norwich warm next winter by providing them with new winter coats.”

The website features a “giving grid,” that resembles a game board with blocks of dollar amounts and photos of donors. Donors can click on a block with a specific dollar amount ranging from $50 to $500. A donation box will open, asking for the donor’s information and either billing address or credit card information. The donor can upload a photo of the individual or group making the donation.

The No-Show Gala runs through March 1 and had raised nearly $4,500 by Friday.

Michael Cooney, vice chairman of Norwich Rotary and chairman of the No-Show Gala, said the concept has been well received over the past three years. The giving grid was added this year to give the drive more visibility and make it more fun.

“The official deadline is March 1, but we will take your money always,” Cooney said. “We also do a golf tournament in September and a bourbon tasting. … We’re not going to close the grid. Last year I got donations in October, so we just got another coat.”

Unlike other coat drives, the Rotary Foundation contacts participating schools and agencies throughout Norwich in August and asks for the names, ages, genders, and coat sizes of children in need of coats. Rotary gets the names in September and buys the coats for about $15 each from Burlington Coat Factory Foundation and Operation Warm, a national nonprofit created by a Rotarian.

“We get coats at substantially reduced prices,” Green said, “and we’ll be going to stores picking up coats here and there, discount closeouts if we see really good deals, just to have them on hand.”

When the coats arrive, Rotary volunteers gather at the storage building and match coats with labels with each child's name and information. The coats are delivered to the schools, while officials from some agencies come and pick up their bundles, Green said.

The drive started in 2010 on a much smaller scale, Green said, with about 300 to 350 coats going to local nonprofit agencies. An effort to include surrounding smaller towns brought little response, he said. Two years ago, organizers expanded to include public and private schools in Norwich and the St. Vincent de Paul Place soup kitchen, which serves families throughout the region.

Rotary has also lifted the cap of 250 coats per agency. The group distributed nearly 400 coats to Norwich public schools, almost 300 to St. Vincent’s and a combined 200 to Madonna Place and United Community and Family services. Thames River Family Program, St. Patrick’s Cathedral School and other groups also were added, and the coat drive continues to grow, Green said.

“By doing St. Vincent de Paul, that helped us get into smaller surrounding towns,” Green said. “We tried a few years ago reaching out to smaller towns and didn’t get response.”

c.bessette@theday.com

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