Brats to talk about

An Illinois signature project supports community nonprofits for 50 years.

Kiwanis signature projects take all shapes and forms. But imagine one that requires serving almost 20,000 bratwursts in just two days. To put that into perspective, if those bratwursts were laid end to end, they would stretch longer than 30 American football fields. That’s the Kiwanis Club of Alpine-Rockford’s Brat Days event, which celebrated its 50th year in Rockford, Illinois, last July. 

Ken Whitmore, a club member and 2006-07 governor of the Kiwanis Illinois-Eastern Iowa District, says the Johnsonville company — the Wisconsin-based sausage provider — won’t reveal how that “20,000” statistic compares to other events. But a company representative once offered a hint.

“It was an unofficial statement,” Whitmore says. “But they said, ‘Put it this way: We sell more brats on Brat Days than we do the entire season of NASCAR.’”

Chartered in 1968, the Alpine club held its first Brat Days event in 1971 to raise service account funds. Over Brat Days’ history, the club has given more than US$2 million in event proceeds to charities — with about 85% of those funds donated to organizations in the greater Rockford area.

Since its inception, the club has supported more than 300 nonprofits. In the last two years alone, the Alpine club has donated funds to more than 35 organizations that provide programming and services to a variety of age groups.

One recipient, KFACT, focuses on building healthy futures for under-served girls in Rockford through mentoring. Another, Rock House Kids, serves as an evening haven for young people ages 6 to 18, offering hot meals and teaching life skills ranging from academic success and goal development to the prevention of gang involvement. In addition, the Adult Day Program at Lifescape Community Services provides a safe environment and enriching programming for adults with disabilities.

Brat Days funds also support the Kiwanis Children’s Fund and the Illinois-Eastern Iowa District’s Kiwanis Neuroscience Research Foundation, which provides financial grants to top-level medical and scientific researchers who specialize in spastic paralysis and other diseases of the central nervous system, with a focus on neonatal areas.

While previous Brat Days included live entertainment, the COVID-19 pandemic limited the 2021 event to drive-through or walk-up options only, with no eating on the premises. Still, between two locations, over 4,200 cars picked up brats. Close to 400 volunteers from more than 33 organizations donated 1,850 service hours. 

It’s no wonder, then, that hosting the event is a year-round commitment.

“The excitement and enthusiasm leading up to and during Brat Days is contagious,” Whitmore says. “Planning for the next Brat Days starts from the moment the previous year’s event concludes. Site leaders document lessons learned from their team members — both what worked well and what didn’t. While the work is exhausting, knowing how much the organizations we support appreciate the funds makes it all worthwhile.”

This story originally appeared in the March 2022 issue of Kiwanis magazine.

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