Road rules

When the pandemic put the brakes on a longtime fundraiser, California Kiwanians gambled on a new event.

By Cindy Dashnaw 

In March 2020, players, coaches, referees and staff were poised to attend the 30th Annual Kiwanis Central Coast All-Star Basketball Spectacular. The Kiwanis Club of Santa Maria Valley, California, had worked for months to get ready. Then, just days before tip-off, everything changed.

“We got a call from the host college that events were canceled due to the coronavirus,” says Gary Prober, the club’s treasurer. “We were reeling.”

Gone were event proceeds that funded sports programs for kids in homeless shelters and scholarships for high school seniors. The club’s primary fundraiser, the October Bingo Blast, would be the next casualty, putting all service projects in jeopardy.

But this 18-member club rebounded. In weeks, they’d set up their first-ever poker game/road rally fundraiser for some socially distanced fun in October 2020.

Poker Rally participants would drive their own vehicles through the vineyards, farmlands and hills of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, stopping to pick up a playing card at each of seven stations (while staying safely in their cars). The person with the best five-card stud poker hand at the finish line would win US$500. All other hands would win tickets for a raffle, with better hands earning more tickets. 

“We found out-of-the-way parks and wineries for stations, and we also found community jewels that many people did not know existed,” Prober says. “The Poker Rally would bring exposure to nonprofits like the Orcutt Oasis Senior Center.”

Every club member stepped up to handle responsibilities for the stations, dressing themselves and their tables to match a theme. Stations had treats or prizes for kids, and many gave away themed items, like a salt shaker at the station hosted by a Margaritaville Resort, named after the popular song by American tropical crooner Jimmy Buffett. Past fundraiser sponsors donated certificates for easy (socially distanced) mailing to raffle winners. 

“We ended up with so many donations that almost every participant won at least one prize,” Prober says.

An intense promotional effort resulted in 80 participants, five over the club’s goal. The day of the Poker Rally brought gorgeous weather and grateful drivers who had been hunkered down at home during the pandemic. 

“So many people thanked us for getting them out of the house,” Prober said.  

The rally netted $3,384. On the heels of its success, the club held a second rally in the spring and brought in $2,759, after donations were made to each of the nonprofits used as stations.


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