Good News: Rotary Club of Schaumburg-Hoffman Estates adapts annual fundraiser for social distancing

  • The Rotary Club of Schaumburg-Hoffman Estates adapted its annual dinner and silent auction fundraiser to meet social distancing recommendations. Rotarian George Panopoulos is shown with Big Bird, one of the props from the 1969 theme of the event, picking up meals at the Chicago Marriott Schaumburg to deliver to the WINGS Safe House in Rolling Meadows.

    The Rotary Club of Schaumburg-Hoffman Estates adapted its annual dinner and silent auction fundraiser to meet social distancing recommendations. Rotarian George Panopoulos is shown with Big Bird, one of the props from the 1969 theme of the event, picking up meals at the Chicago Marriott Schaumburg to deliver to the WINGS Safe House in Rolling Meadows. Courtesy of Rotary Club of Schaumburg Hoffman Estates.

 
Updated 3/24/2020 6:41 AM

Leave it to the Rotarians to get things done.

Members of the Rotary Club of Schaumburg-Hoffman Estates faced a difficult decision this month, one that many nonprofit organizations are facing in these uncertain times with the coronavirus.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Within two days of their biggest fundraiser of the year, their 50th anniversary Classic, they made the difficult decision, not to cancel or postpone it, but to reinvent it.

That's right. Instead of gathering with 350 supporters at the Chicago Marriott Schaumburg, they streamed a Facebook live event from a makeshift broadcast studio at the Marriott.

In the end, the virtual event netted more than $120,000, or about what it would have made had they held the fundraiser in person.

Eileen Higginbotham, community outreach chairwoman for the club, said members were charting new territory.

"We're doing our best to make sure that we still have plenty of funds raised this year to donate to the organizations in our community for next year," Higginbotham said.

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Credit co-chairs Rosemary Justen and Jean Schlinkmann and their committee, who came dressed in hippie attire for the broadcast -- the better to keep with their 1969 theme -- while Sonny and Cher's iconic hit "The Beat Goes On" played in the background.

The 45-minute event showcased their more than 100 silent auction items and featured their grand prize raffle drawings, all while sharing the club's 50 years of service to the community.

Veterans and their families helped themselves to the donated dinner at the Trickster Gallery in Schaumburg.
Veterans and their families helped themselves to the donated dinner at the Trickster Gallery in Schaumburg. - Courtesy of Rotary Club of Schaumburg Hoffman Estates.

While more than 50 individuals and groups watched the event live, more than 850 have watched the video since then.

"I'm very proud of how we pulled together," said Schlinkmann, who spent 33 years with the Schaumburg Park District, including eight as executive director.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

It was Schlinkmann's background in broadcasting with the park district that came in handy. Back in the 1980s, the park district began offering talk shows and other programming on the village's cable access channel -- shows that Schlinkmann produced, directed and hosted.

Consequently, she stepped right into her role as host for the evening. Guests streaming the broadcast could go to an online portal to bid on auction items in real time. In the end, the club sold 70 auction items, while 400 raffle tickets -- at $100 each -- had been sold before the event.

Club members also had nailed down sponsors leading up to the Classic. Consequently, they had already raised $100,000 before the cameras even started rolling.

The meals that had been ordered for the fundraiser were donated to charity. They were a combination chicken and steak dinner with mashed potatoes and green beans, topped with a duet of tiramisu and cheesecake for dessert.
The meals that had been ordered for the fundraiser were donated to charity. They were a combination chicken and steak dinner with mashed potatoes and green beans, topped with a duet of tiramisu and cheesecake for dessert. - Courtesy of Rotary Club of Schaumburg Hoffman Estates.

However, because the club decided to change things up so close to the event, they could not get their money back for the dinners, since Marriott officials already had purchased all the food.

Club members picked up the gourmet chicken and steak dinners and delivered them to organizations they serve. Those included 100 dinners each to the WINGS Safe House shelter in Rolling Meadows, which serves domestic abuse survivors and their families, and to veterans served by Trickster Art Gallery and the Barn Senior Center, both in Schaumburg.

Joe Podlasek, executive director of Trickster Art Gallery, thanked the Rotarians and praised their partnership in getting food to area veterans.

"We had a great turnout in person," Podlasek said, "then veterans offered to take this amazing meal to other veterans unable to come out."

During the virtual event, club President Pat Groenewold described how its Rotarians had contributed more than $5 million through their 50 years to programs in the community and around the world.

"Once again tonight," Groenewold said, "we Rotarians have demonstrated what we can do when a real need arises."

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