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VOL. 44 | NO. 42 | Friday, October 16, 2020

Virtual change of plans

Charity parties, runs and even a Christmas parade are forced to re-route in the age of COVID-19

By Catherine Mayhew

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Enjoy a lovely glass of Bear Flag cabernet sauvignon with notes of black raspberries, red cherry jam and dried fruit while conversing with the winemaker. Indulge in an Italian feast of chicken diavolo, osso buco and tiramisu as you browse the work of world-renowned artists. Compete for the Golden Brain Award with your friends in a night of lively trivia.

Take a brisk run Thanksgiving morning with all your buddies, adorned in custom-made T-shirts.

You can have it all! In fact, you can have it all in your pajamas (yes, even the Turkey Day run). The world has gone virtual, and we’ve progressed quite a bit from the boring seminar via Zoom.

Forbes Magazine reports that virtual events are up 1,000% since the pandemic started. And more than half of respondents to a survey by digital advertising consultant The 614 Group say they expect all live conferences and gatherings will have a virtual component post-pandemic.

Nonprofits have hopped on the virtual bandwagon, too, as they attempt to recoup at least some of the revenue they enjoyed from in-person fundraisers before the virus shut them down. Fundraisers can account for as much as a quarter of a nonprofit’s budget, and a survey of more than 1,800 charities published in Philanthropy News Digest found that 42% expected a highly negative impact on fundraising.

But as many nonprofit executives say, the missions of their organizations go on whether there’s a virus or not. In fact, in many cases the pandemic has magnified societal issues such as literacy and food insecurity.

This year, nonprofits have taken traditional in-person events, some dating back to 1927 (we’re looking at you, Nashville Christmas Parade) and transferred them to virtual platforms. And in some cases they’ve found that the digital versions have silver linings they never imagined.

Belly up to the wine bar

Emily Joy Allison, right, picks up her wine for the virtual wine tasting from East Nashville Hope Exchange board member Brittany Simpson.

-- Photo By Leigh Melton Singleton | The Ledger

The East Nashville Hope Exchange focuses on literacy and works with at-risk children to make sure they remain competitive with their more-fortunate peers. For 18 years, one of its fundraisers has been a wine tasting, normally held at St. Ann’s Episcopal Church, where its offices are located. Normally, about 200 people attend the event, which accounts for 10-15% of the Exchange’s budget.

Event chair Jennifer Weinberg says canceling the event altogether was not even an option.

“We can’t say never mind because we have a mission,” she says of the wine tasting, which supports about 100 children in the Exchange’s summer program and regular tutoring for up to 50 children during the school year.

“We just wanted to pivot it and do something,” she continues. “We were missing our supporters and constituents. We missed seeing their faces.”

So the wine event, sponsored by Midtown Corkdorks on Church Street, went online. Three wines from Bear Flag wines were offered – a merlot, a cabernet sauvignon and a red blend – with patrons picking up three two-ounce pours for $45 or three bottles for $120 from Corkdorks in late September. They then settled onto their sofas for a virtual session with the actual winemaker, Aaron Piotter.

“At normal wine tastings, we’ve had distributors but never the actual winemaker,” Weinberg says. “We could ask a lot of questions.”

And she says there was that silver lining with 50 attendees.

“When you have a big fundraiser, it takes a lot of energy out of you,” she says. “The benefit of the online class was because there wasn’t as much work as putting on a 200-person event.”

Wine also will be served Nov. 15 when Arrowmont in Sevierville puts on its annual Meet the Artists gala virtually. But it also comes with a gourmet Italian dinner of a charcuterie board appetizer, Caprese salad, chicken diavolo, osso buco, roast vegetables, bread and olive oil, with pana cotta and tiramisu for dessert. Yes, that’s dinner for one. The meal will be accompanied by red and white wines.

Winemaker Aaron Piotter of California’s Bear Flag Winery guides participants through tastings of three varieties of wine produced in Bear Creek’s Napa Valley winery.

-- Photo By Bubba Singleton |The Ledger

“We’ve had to stand everything on its head and re-envision,” says Fran Day, director of institutional advancement at the arts and crafts school. “When the pandemic hit, the first thing I did was cancel all our fundraiser events for the spring which did not make me happy. We then began to think about how we could reimagine some of our events.”

The traditional event had been held at a venue for 180 people, who enjoyed browsing the art offered in an auction in person. But Day says taking it virtual has a side benefit. “We decided we could do the auction online and open it up to our entire universe instead of just the people who were at the event.”

Along with the gourmet dinner with no-contact delivery, guests will get an art box with handmade objects such as a centerpiece vase, napkin rings, a candlestick and a charcuterie serving board.

The online auction will run from Nov. 1-14, with bidding possible from anywhere, and the winners will be announced Nov. 15 during a virtual get together.

That’s a lot of bang for $175 bucks.

“I believe that if you’re going to do something and you’re going to ask people to support you it’s incumbent on you to go the extra miles,” says Day. “People are used to coming to our events and experiencing art and camaraderie and we wanted to be able to say that we are so appreciative of their support during this time that we are going to do the best we can to make it memorable.”

Mask up for good cause

No, not those kinds of masks. The Interfaith Health Clinic in Knoxville is looking forward to seeing your Halloween masks at its virtual Trick-Or-Trivia Night.

The eighth annual event raises money for the clinic, which has served more than 24,000 individuals with affordable dental, medical and mental health care.

“Everybody’s starving for something to do,” says Aaron Price, the director of development and public relations. “We have a big giant golden brain we make, and the winner gets to hold on to that for a year. We say they’ve got the biggest brain in Knoxville.”

Upcoming virtual events

• The East Nashville Hope Exchange is planning an online auction for November. Information
• Arrowmont will hold its annual Meet the Artists auction and dinner virtually Nov. 15. A gourmet Italian dinner will be delivered to participants as well as a box with handmade art items. There will be on online reception at 5:30 p.m., followed by a live-streamed welcome and auction winner announcement. Tickets are $175. The artwork and artist interviews will be previewed beginning Oct. 15, with the auction running Nov. 1-14. Information
• The Interfaith Health Clinic in Knoxville will host Trick or Trivia Night Oct. 22. Information
• The Grateful Gobbler supports homeless families with a walk on Thanksgiving morning in Chattanooga. The cost to participate is $30 for adults and $15 for ages 12 and under. If you prefer to sleep in on the holiday, you can register as a Sleep Walker for $20. Register or make a donation at www.gratefulgobblerwalk.org, 423 847-5844.
• The Boulevard Bolt in Nashville is also virtual this year. Information
• The Fantasy of Trees tree auction in Knoxville is Nov. 1-30. Information
• The Nashville Christmas Parade is Dec. 5 at 9 a.m. on WKRN, Channel 2. Information

The trivia contest might make the best use of a Zoom breakout room yet. Patrons compete in teams, often from the same business, to answer the questions posed by a professional host from TriviaHub, which specializes in online trivia games. The teams then huddle in breakout rooms to discuss their answers.

“People can play from their couch or conference room,” says Price. “What we’re finding is these folks will congregate in their conference room because they’re already used to being together.”

The Nashville Christmas Parade will be a TV-only event this year.

-- Photograph Provided

There also will be contests for best costume and best mask (surgical ones will not cut it here). And, yes, there’s food involved in this virtual event, too. Price says those sponsoring a virtual table will enjoy a charcuterie board, cheeses, dips and wine delivered before the contest.

“We’ve definitely had some challenges,” Price says. “I’ve been putting on events for 20 years and it’s pretty cut and dry. You have a committee and you rely on people who’ve come every year. But what I’ve found out is that people want to support organizations. And we’ve had a lot of people who said I can’t come but let me mail you a check. We’ve been really successful with old-school mailings. We’re reverting back to snail mail a little bit.”

In Chattanooga, there will be a Grateful Gobbler Walk on Thanksgiving Day this year, but it won’t involve 5,000 people convening in Coolidge Park.

The 21st annual event, which benefits the Maclellan Shelter for Families, will happen in neighborhoods all over the city with participants running, walking or strolling in areas they deem safe.

“It was a tough decision to go virtual this year,” says Betsy McCright, who chairs the event with her husband, Stan. Besides offering a commemorative long-sleeved T-shirt of a turkey wearing a mask, the Grateful Gobbler is enticing walkers with suggestions before the event.

“Every Thursday we’re giving them a tip. Identify a route in their neighborhood. Invite family and friends to get involved. Name your team.” Participants are encouraged to take photos, which will be posted on the event’s website.

McCright is focused on supporting the mission of the McClellan Shelter and hopes to raise $200,000 this year. That would cover operating expenses and continue providing transportation and child care for families.

Don’t want to walk on Thanksgiving Day? Pick another day that’s better for you. Don’t want to walk at all? No problem. The Gobbler has a category for you: Register as a Sleep Walker for $20.

The Grateful Gobbler was inspired by the Boulevard Bolt in Nashville, which also benefits the homeless and will also be virtual this year. Participants can run, jog or stroll outdoors, at a gym or even on a treadmill at home Nov. 23-26. Once you’ve done racing, you can submit your results to the Boulevard Bolt website and post photos to its Facebook page.

Christmas is coming virtually

One of the most anticipated events of the Christmas season in Knoxville is the Fantasy of Trees, which benefits the East Tennessee Children’s Hospital. Normally spanning several days with multiple events, this year it will be a little skinnier but just as enthusiastic.

“Fantasy of Trees attracts more than 60,000 people over the five-day event at the Knoxville Convention Center,” says Erica Estep, public relations manager for the hospital. “Our organizers decided early this summer that it would not be a safe thing to host in the midst of a global pandemic. Fantasy of Trees is a huge event, the hospital’s biggest fundraiser, so our development team began working immediately on ideas for alternative fundraisers.”

This year, the Fantasy of Trees will offer a virtual tree raffle based on one of the most popular events in normal times. A virtual raffle will allow people to donate $10 for a chance to win one of five prizes, the grand prize being a fully decorated tree and $5,000 worth of goodies such as a big screen TV, video game system and toys donated by Walmart. There was also a warehouse sale of ornaments and holiday décor that took place earlier this month.

In Nashville, the granddaddy of all Christmas events is also going virtual. The Nashville Christmas Parade, benefiting the Monroe Carrell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, will air as a virtual parade Dec. 5.

“It was a hard decision because we didn’t want to do it virtually if at all possible,” says Julie Carrell Stadler, co-producer of the parade “But we had to think about it starting last spring. We were afraid what if we got all that lined up and couldn’t do it. Late spring, we decided we had to go with the safer choice.”

The parade, founded in 1927, will this year be a one-hour broadcast on television versus the two hours when the parade can occur with crowds along the route.

“Santa is still definitely going to be in the virtual parade,” Stadler says. “We’re also going to do highlights from past parades. We always have special stories we feature during the parade. And there’s always a child ambassador (from the hospital) who speaks during the parade.”

Another pandemic silver lining: Country stars who would have been on tour are home in Nashville like everyone else.

“Normally, a lot of the talent is on tour right before the holidays,” Stadler says. “So it’s harder to get them to be in the parade. But because they’re not on tour it’s easier to get them to do the parade.

“We’re excited that this year our front-line health care workers are our hometown heroes, and that’s who we will spotlight,” she says.

During their lifetimes, Stadler’s parents – Monroe J. Carell Jr. and Ann Scott Carell – spent many hours at the hospital her father founded. Their spirits will be especially bright during the parade this year.

“I think they would be so thrilled at the connection between the parade and the children’s hospital,” she says. “My dad would want to be on a float I’m sure.”

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