PALM HARBOR — When COVID-19 put the brakes on the world in 2020, fundraising efforts for the Palm Harbor Rotary went into full skid.
For an organization such as Rotary, where virtually every activity at a meeting is geared to raise money for charity, the result was devastating. With in-person gatherings out of the question, there was no one to drop money into ever-present buckets for Alzheimer’s research. No Happy Dollars moments where, for a $1, a member could stand up and say something they were happy about. No 50/50 raffles, where the person with the winning ticket could split the pot of money with the club.
And the club’s efforts to eradicate polio worldwide, driven by Rotary International, lurched to a full stop.
Faced with such monumental challenges, “we have had to be very creative,” said Palm Harbor Rotary President Joe Cannarella. “We can’t just fold up and say, ‘Well, we’re in the middle of a pandemic, we’re going to have to wait.’ There are people who need help now and we need to find a way to make it work.”
Cannarella and the club fundraising chair considered eight or nine fundraising events, but complications of one kind or another kept each from being realized. The club maintained its annual golf tournament, which, despite the virus, drew 144 golfers, with another 126 on the waiting list. The club sponsored an online auction. While fundraising efforts were crimped, the Rotarians decided to help as many as they could.
The emphasis was on “many.” Donations went to a long list of area nonprofits:
• Sleep in Heavenly Peace, to make and give beds to children without them. Members also volunteered to help build beds
• Tampa Bay Advocates Against Human Trafficking
• Brookwood Florida, helping troubled teen girls
• Eckerd Connects
• Clothes for Kids
• Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, to purchase toys to keep in cruisers for children in distress
• Sunrise of Pasco County, helping victims of sexual assault
• Santa for Seniors, providing gifts to residents of nursing homes
• FEAST food pantry
• Smiles for Vets, providing free dental work to veterans
Members were “very elated with what we could do,” Cannarella said.
And what of the polio eradication program? Rotary International has been intimately involved with the effort since 1979, and in that time had built an infrastructure that had succeeded in eliminating the crippling disease in every country but Afghanistan and Pakistan. That established apparatus is being transformed into a delivery system for coronavirus vaccines. “That’s what we do, we give vaccines,” Cannarella said.
Whatever 2021 may hold, Cannarella says Palm Harbor Rotary will keep a steady hand on the wheel.
“We are looking to grow our membership of like-minded individuals to help us make a positive impact in the community,” he said. “We look to do more service projects and donate more money to charities. Next month we plan to install the Little Library in Pop Stansel Park, that date is yet to be determined.”
Palm Harbor Rotary meets every Wednesday at noon. The first meeting of the month is a mixer, and the location changes every month. Other weeks are hybrid meetings, either on Zoom or in-person at Snappers in the comedy room, 36657 U.S. 19 N. COVID precautions are taken.