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Amy Scherzer's Diary: Charity finds a way in hard times

It has been a rough year for charity workers desperate to maintain critical social services as demand soars and the economy sinks. Still, the people of Tampa continue to give, pouring time, funding and imagination into improving health, safety, education, our environment, the arts, and so much more. Thousands of hours and thousands of dollars changed thousands of lives, despite hardships in many corners of the community.

How did they do it? And with the economic forecast still bleak, can they do it again?

We've gathered a sampling of some dedicated fundraisers to comment on how they managed to stay in the black in 2008 and what they'll do to keep it that way in 2009. For better or for worse, change has been this year's catchall, but much gratitude is due for the steady efforts of changemakers like these who strengthen community ties now dearer than ever. — Amy Scherzer

"We knew last summer it was going to be a hard year, and we expected it to be tough getting sponsors and guests. The economy was a black cloud over everyone. People were fearful, but they knew they were going to give a certain amount anyway. They just waited until the last minute. All organizations had to cut expenses to compensate. For instance, at the Broadway Ball we raised the same amount of money (as 2007) with 200 less people."

McIver Berner, Broadway Ball committee member

"All business has been impacted by economic conditions, even the business of raising charitable dollars. Our goal at Pepin Hospitality Centre was to try to raise $3- to $4-million by making the room and food available to charities at cost. Our theory is without that, some of these events would not have happened.

"Looks like we raised $1.7-million, as all events struggled in attendance. People are cutting back on what they spend, unfortunately cutting back on those that need it the most.

"We're going to reinvent the banquet experience at our second annual Valentine's Day event for Pepin Heart Hospital. We're going to debut the "silent" live auction with no announcements, no disruption of your dinner. You'll see all the items on a video screen. You wave someone over, tell them your bid and it will change on the screen."

Tom Pepin, CEO, Pepin Distributing Co.; president, Pepin Hospitality Centre

"There are challenges this year, and anyone who says there are not is incorrect. It's not been great for everyone, but it was for Cattle Barons.' We raised $425,000 for the American Cancer Society, and we're staying with that goal again this year (March 7), our 12th year.

"We have a new venue, still at the Port Authority, but at Cruise Terminal 6 on the ground level and waterfront. We have new headline entertainment. But I always say, it's not about the party. Our donors are loyal to the cause, and they know we're good stewards of the money."

Gloria Giunta, founder, Tampa Bay Cattle Barons' Ball; volunteer ambassador Florida division

"I'm amazed at the willingness of people, even though they really don't have time, to make room in their lives and their hearts to help the American Heart Association. We would love to raise a million dollars at the Heart Ball (March 21), and we'll have a special appeal for a stroke research initiative. I'm really excited about getting to meet the researchers and actually see where the dollars are going."

Shelley Morgan, 2009 Heart Ball co-chairman

"I took over the presidency and got the Red Cross Angels back on track and raised over $200,000 at our event honoring congressman Bill Young. The membership had dropped drastically, and we were dead broke. It wasn't so much the economy as it is more women working. But I founded it and had been president back in the beginning, so I couldn't let it go. We have a new president now, and lots of new young members, and we're back close to where we were."

Beverly Austin, founder Red Cross Angels


Tuesday: Outback Bowl President's Reception; 7-10 p.m.; A La Carte Pavilion; invitation only; 874-2695.

Wednesday: Aqua Eve celebration benefits Florida Aquarium; downtown chic attire; 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.; at the aquarium, $100;


Jan. 8: 18th annual Night at the Circus benefits Tampa General Hospital Foundation; 7:30 p.m.; St. Pete Times Forum; 844-7273.

Jan. 10: Masquerade Ball III "Puttin' on the Ritz" benefits Stageworks Theatre; 6:30 p.m.; the Ritz in Ybor City; $150; 784-6832.

Amy Scherzer's Diary: Charity finds a way in hard times 12/25/08 [Last modified: Saturday, December 27, 2008 6:39pm]
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