Rising above

Even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kiwanis clubs find ways to help.

There has never been a year quite like this one. In Kiwanis International’s 105-year history, no other time has been as disruptive to the daily life of so many of our clubs’ communities. Or to the service and fellowship of club members.

But Kiwanis clubs exist to help when their communities need them most. Even in the time of the coronavirus — especially now — members have found ways to transcend the circumstances in which we’re all living. 

Kiwanis magazine is pleased to share some of those stories on the following pages. These are just a few of the many inspiring ways that clubs around the world have risen to this extraordinary occasion. We hope your club has a similar story to tell. And we hope you draw inspiration from the ones you read here.


Panama City, Panama
Local connection brings quick reaction

In Panama, the Kiwanis Club of Crucible C3 sprung into action when the coronavirus struck. It helped to have a good combination: its history of serving local organizations and a key connection through club leadership.

The club’s president, Isaac Borbua, is a member of the Panama Canal Authority (ACP). So he was in a position to spearhead a joint effort with the ACP’s engineers to help local organizations that the club had previously served. And he did so, collecting financial donations from the ACP — which could then be used to purchase food and cleaning supplies.

Overall, the ACP’s donation came to 2,600 balboas, a Panamanian currency. On April 30, club members delivered items to five nursing homes and group homes, whose residents range from AIDS patients to children with disabilities. 


Erbach/Odenwald, Germany 
Reaching faraway kids during quarantine

When the coronavirus forced the Erbach/Odenwald Kiwanis Club in Germany to cancel its events, members drew on available funds for a different approach: smaller donations for key causes far away. 

“In Germany, we are lucky,” says Immediate Past President Stefan Uhrig. “Often it is a question of donating toys to a kindergarten or school bags to children in need.”  

The club had previous ties to two projects — one in Peru and one in Uganda. With one last fundraiser before the shutdown, the club raised EUR500 for Casa Verde, a children’s shelter in Arequipa, Peru.

In Uganda, an organization called Abaana Afrika has built and operated a school for village children. When it closed and sent students back to their families, one of the kids’ main sources for healthy meals was gone — especially with many parents confined to their homes and unable to work. The club’s donation provided a month of food for seven families. 

In the meantime, the club kept working close to home. When a local radio station reported on the needs of women’s shelters, members purchased board games for kids living in a local women’s shelter. An area store even gave them a discount. 

Club members also provided Kiwanis-branded fabric masks, which the club had bought from its partner club in Schärding, Austria. In fact, the club also bought some for members. At one point, a store employee asked Uhrig where all these masks had come from. In a single day, she said, she had seen eight people walking around “with Kiwanis written on their faces.”


Virginia Beach, Virginia, US 
Club donates to favorite server

The coronavirus has been hard on restaurants — and the people who work there. When the IHOP where the Kiwanis Club of Virginia Beach, Virginia, held its meetings closed in March, members did what Kiwanians do: They helped someone.

Their longtime server, Kendra Grimes, lost her job with the closure. Hearing about the misfortune, club members passed the proverbial hat. By the end of the month, they had collected US$1,000. Division 14 Lt. Gov. Joe Flanagan delivered it to her on April 1.

For Grimes, a single mother suddenly without a job or health insurance, it was a source of strength and hope. For the club, it was a small example of the ways Kiwanians reach out to people in need.


Kendall-South Dade, Florida, US
Grant helps club help Hope

When a local food pantry and relief organization saw a 500% increase in requests for aid during the pandemic, the Kiwanis Club of Kendall-South Dade, Florida, used a grant from the Kiwanis Children’s Fund to meet that need. 

“We want to help deliver hope during a crisis,” says Diana Morrell, secretary of the Kendall-South Dade club.  

The funds allowed the organization, Bridge to Hope, serve 51 families who were referred to it by school administrators. Many of the families don’t have cars, so Bridge to Hope delivers groceries, school supplies, hand sanitizers and masks. The grant will allow the program to continue through the summer.


High Point, North Carolina, US
A caravan of support

Everyone could use some fellowship these days. In April, members of the Kiwanis Club of High Point, North Carolina, lifted the spirits of their sponsored Aktion Club members quarantined in the community, driving past seven group homes with signs expressing support. Most of the Aktion Club members live in group homes. With social distancing restrictions, it was also a chance for the residents to step outside for some interaction.


Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, US
Club converts grant funds into food

Chartered just two years ago, the Kiwanis Club of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, had already found a great way to raise money. Then the coronavirus struck. 

“We had to cancel our casino fundraiser that brought in US$7,000 last year,” says member Tricia Knoles. “We want to be able to keep helping without depleting our community service account.”

Thanks to a grant from the Kiwanis Children’s Fund, they’re still helping — at a time when the need is more urgent than ever. Along with the club’s own contribution of $1,000, the grant has allowed them to buy food for Cuyahoga Falls City Schools elementary students and their families. 

Local partnerships are useful too. Club members work with the Akron/Canton regional food bank, a locally owned grocery and Panera Bread to fill boxes with fresh food and pantry items. Club members also help community partners package and distribute the food.

Before the pandemic, two elementary schools had taken part in the program, which provided a backpack of food to carry students through the weekend. Now, children at all the city’s elementary schools get seven days of breakfast, lunch and snacks — as well as two family-sized dinners.


Griffin, Georgia, US 
Club creates first responders drive-thru

They say there’s no free lunch. But the Kiwanis Club of Griffin, Georgia, made sure the area’s first responders got one in April. 

When the coronavirus made the club’s usual meeting impossible, members set up a lunchtime drive-thru to thank police officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians and other first responders for their work during the pandemic. 

The club made enough food to feed the first 100 arrivals for lunch, which was available to those who came in uniform or showed their badge.


Portmore, Jamaica 
Kiwanians show they care with a plan

On Jamaica’s southern coast, the Greater Portmore Kiwanis Club didn’t just respond quickly to the coronavirus. It put together a plan. The club’s #WECARE Plan was a multiphase effort to address the needs of medical and service workers in Jamaica’s 23 West Division — along with others who are especially vulnerable to COVID-19.

During Phase One in March, the club purchased hand sanitizer and cleaning products, which they delivered to the Greater Portmore Police Station, Waterford Fire Station and Greater Portmore Health Centre. The club also joined the Kiwanis Clubs of Sunshine City, Portmore and Central Portmore to make over 1,000 masks for residential care facilities that serve the elderly and people with mental disabilities.

Greater Portmore members also donated 10 100-pound bags of rice to the Portmore City Municipality for care packages to be distributed to senior citizens. In addition, they joined the Kiwanis Club of Portmore to assemble care packages with food and other essentials — then delivered them to city residents who were quarantined with suspected cases of COVID-19.

April brought Phase Two: The club purchased six plastic drums and arranged for them to be transformed into stand-alone handwashing stations for use at hospitals and police stations.  

“The Portmore City Municipality promised to fill the drums with water on a daily basis if we are having challenges getting them filled,” says Nordia Campbell, president of the Greater Portmore club.


Cheyenne, Wyoming, US
Club raises funds for community and fellow club members

For the Kiwanis Club of Cheyenne, Wyoming, the coronavirus inspired a sense of urgency toward community service.  The club’s outreach began with an eye toward food insecurity. 

“It was a matter of doing an abbreviated community assessment,” says club member Tim Sheppard. 

Continuing its meetings online, the 270-member club then started a committee for its COVID-19 fundraising efforts. Members contacted two local food banks — which suggested the club contact the Food Bank of the Rockies, which supports those pantries. The larger food bank was willing to use club-raised funds to help Cheyenne food banks specifically. By mid-May, the club had raised nearly US$30,000.

Its scope expanded when a member got the virus and lost their job. The fund now serves two needs: 70% for local food banks and 30% for members in need as a result of the pandemic. 

In fact, the club has partnered with the United Way of Laramie County — allowing that organization to oversee the latter portion. With the United Way’s request form, members also don’t have to ask other members personally.

“It’s a new environment,” Sheppard says. “And it’s not expensive to do some form of community assessment. Kiwanis can make a difference right now — and in my opinion, we should.”


Brecksville, Ohio, US
Club gets grant, families get groceries

In the face of the pandemic, the Kiwanis Club of Brecksville, Ohio, put partnership to use. Thanks to a grant from the Kiwanis Children’s Fund, along with donations from the Brecksville-Broadview Heights School District Parent School Organization, the club helped 33 families in the area buy groceries in May.

With the funds, members purchased gift cards to grocery stores and distributed them to families on the school district’s free and reduced-price lunch program.

The Children’s Fund grant was a key supplement to the club’s fundraising effort, which ultimately topped US$10,000 and included donations from the BBH Parent School Organization and other donors.


Riverton, Illinois, US
Kiwanians start a pantry as virus hits

A year ago, the Kiwanis Club of Greater Riverton Area was new to its central Illinois community. But it made an impression: a micro-pantry in front of a local high school. The club bought the food and Key Clubbers stocked it every day.

That experience came in handy this spring. After small local pantries succumbed to the effects of COVID-19, the club’s 15 members quickly figured out how to start and run their own pantry. Community members helped, donating thousands of dollars and a variety of food items.

Each Tuesday, cars lined up for club members to put groceries into backseats and trunks. The rest of the week, Jeb Brown, the club’s charter president, distributed food through the drive-thru window of his business, Riverton Party Store.

“This town has seen a lot of clubs come and go,” he says. “But they haven’t seen anything like this Kiwanis club.”


Stuart, Florida, US
One call leads to food-providing partnerships

For Allison Wigley of the Kiwanis Club of Stuart, Florida, one conversation with a friend led to an initiative that fed about 500 people within days. When Wigley noted that at-risk youth were disproportionately affected by the pandemic, her friend offered to donate US$5,000. 

“So I started making some phone calls, and it grew and grew,” Wigley says. 

H. E. Hill Foundation’s arrangement with six farms helped the club support local businesses while serving people in need. A local food distributor allowed the club to buy food for its hot to-go meals, with discounts that helped pack 500 boxes.

A childcare center provided a distribution point for cars to receive a hot meal for each family member. The club also put groceries in the trunks. 

Cher Fisher, the club’s president (and Wigley’s mother), even made sure the kids got something special. “I had collected books for the little library,” she says, “so we put in a book, some crayons, a yo-yo, something kids could use for quiet play.”


This story originally appeared in the August 2020 issue of Kiwanis magazine.

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