Shaking things up

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Sometimes you have to make a change to be successful. Three clubs show how to create a stir with these spirited events.

Story by Julie Saetre

While alcohol and children should never mix, a mixer featuring alcohol for children’s causes can be a winning combination. When thoughtfully and conscientiously planned, alcohol-tasting events can be both profitable and classy, organizers say. 

When the Kiwanis Club of Lakeland, Florida, launched a rum-tasting festival, some long-time members resisted, envisioning hordes of disorderly, intoxicated guests. The club’s president at the time, Matthew Cantrall, felt confident the event would meet his goals: make a good return on investment and attract younger members to the club. Still, the doubts crept into his mind.

“Was I scared to death? You betcha,” he recalls. “That first year, I was wondering, ‘What’s going to happen? Are the naysayers going to prove me wrong? Will people get drunk and stupid, and fights are going to break out?’ None of that happened. We crossed our T’s and dotted our I’s. And after five years, nothing stupid has happened.”

Suzannah Hobley of the Broad Ripple Kiwanis Club in Indiana chaired the 2019 version of a successful craft beer fundraiser. 

“It’s all in the details,” she says. “It’s a lot of organization to make a huge event go smoothly. You’ve got to have a good team behind you. It’s a huge undertaking, but it was worth all the planning to go into a four-hour event and make that much money. It’s a huge payoff.”

Each of the following clubs chose a different type of adult beverage for a festival focus. All events are for those ages 21 and older.


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Central Florida Rum and Food Experience

Kiwanis Club of Lakeland, Florida

Photos by Tina Sargeant

When Matthew Cantrall wrapped up his term as Florida District governor and returned to the Kiwanis Club of Lakeland for a second term as president, he had a difficult task in front of him. For more than 50 years, the club had held an annual pancake festival that attracted upward of 8,000 hungry guests. But despite the assistance of two other area Kiwanis clubs, the number of members willing to help with the labor-intensive day had dwindled, resulting in shorter event hours as associated costs soared. 

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“We were actually losing 25 cents on the dollar, based on member investment,” says Cantrall, now a Kiwanis Children’s Fund trustee.

So at the event’s first planning meeting of the year, Cantrall donned a black robe, grabbed a pitchfork and announced to shocked club members in his best Grim Reaper imitation that it was time to kill the pancake festival.

Not everyone was amused. A member of one of the other two clubs involved even took the matter to the area newspaper, which printed an article dubbing Cantrall “the pancake killer.” But he was undaunted.

“If you’re a leader in the club, that’s going to come with taking the shots, with making a tough decision,” he says.

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In January 2020, the festival’s replacement, the Central Florida Rum and Food Experience, celebrates its sixth year. Hundreds of guests sample dozens of rums and food station selections, and there’s a drawing to win rum products. The event annually brings in about the same amount as the pancake festival, around US$28,000, but with lower overhead and fewer volunteer hours. The club now makes 40 cents on the dollar. And the event has attracted younger guests, some of whom have joined the Lakeland club.

“What’s relevant to the members today is not something that was relevant 20 to 30 years ago,” Cantrall says. “We lose sight of that sometimes. We’re continuing to get our name out there in front of another generation.”


Kiwanis wine tasting, Parsippany, NJ

Grand Tasting

Kiwanis Club of Greater Parsippany, New Jersey

Photos by Gail Mooney

The Greater Parsippany Kiwanis Club’s Grand Tasting wine-centric fundraiser, which wrapped up its 23rd iteration this past October, began as an offshoot of a New Jersey District governor’s project. Gwen Walding, who served as governor in the 2002-03 Kiwanis year, had chosen autism awareness as her project, and the club wanted to support the cause.

Kiwanis wine tasting, Parsippany, NJ

Members learned about an area school for children with autism, began volunteering there and created the Grand Tasting event to support it. The first event was a sit-down dinner with wine pairings, supplemented with live and silent auctions, and raised US$22,000. The sit-down format proved to be pricey, however, since every person in attendance consumed the same number of wine samples.

So the tasting evolved into its current form, during which guests select samples from nearly 40 tables of wine offerings. Additional stations offer carved meats and other dishes, desserts, coffee and tea. The club partners with a liquor store, through which wine vendors donate several thousand dollars’ worth of vintages. For the past five years, the club has donated proceeds to Camp Nejeda, which offers programs for children and teens with Type 1 diabetes.


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Pints for Half Pints

Broad Ripple Kiwanis Club, Indiana

Photos by Matt Kryger

Members of the Broad Ripple Kiwanis Club in Indianapolis, Indiana, had noticed a troubling trend: Young families were leaving the neighborhood in favor of suburban areas with better-performing school systems. Invest in school improvements, the members thought, and retain the families while fostering a more vibrant community. But how?

The answer, it turned out, began with a frosty pint of ale. One club member owned a popular area pub known for its craft beer selection. Other club members were enthusiastic craft beer connoisseurs. Why not take advantage of their knowledge and contacts for an ale-themed fundraiser?

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That marked the beginning of Pints for Half Pints, which topped off its eighth annual evening this past October. For their admission fee, guests receive a souvenir pint glass and one drink ticket that can be used at any of the available craft beer stations.  Additional drinks as well as food truck fare are available for purchase. The event brings in about US$25,000 each year, allowing the club to provide the neighborhood’s schools with everything from robotics and Lego clubs, graphing calculators to art supplies and drum-line equipment.

“We try to do projects that will influence the most amount of kids,” says Suzannah Hobley, the 2019 Pints for Half Pints chair. “We also provide transportation for field trips. There’s no money in the school budget for that. Think about when you were a kid going to school, going on field trips. That was pretty influential. Imagine never going on a field trip. It blows my mind.”

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This story originally appeared in the January/February 2020 issue of Kiwanis magazine.

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