The Jeff Alverson Memorial Giving Tree program nearly doubled its expectation of fundraising this winter, collecting $35,500 that went to families in need for the holidays.
The program, which is the flagship fundraising effort each year by the Twin Cities Rotary Club, was founded by members Bob Cosser and Bill Logan nearly 20 years ago. The duo came up with an idea to purchase gift certificates for local families in need during the holiday season. It has now grown into a long-standing tradition.
The fundraiser raised a record $20,000 two years ago, $21,000 last year and the club was expecting around $20,000 again this year. In addition to the $32,500 the Rotary club raised, Walmart and Sunbirds also donated $2,000 and $1,000 in gift cards, respectively, to bring the total to $35,500.
“It was exceptional,” said Michael Evinger, Twin Cities Rotary’s director of fundraising. “This year, I guess people just gave more. Just more gracious. We hang our hats on this Christmas giving tree.”
The funds are used to purchase gift certificates, which families can use for children’s Christmas gifts or food for holiday dinners. Each year, the rotary club chooses a different school district, which selects the families most in need. This year, the Chehalis School District was chosen. Each family receives at least $800 worth of gift cards.
“These people are people who’ve really been down on their luck,” said Cat Cleveland, public relations for the rotary club. “Some of them have had their electricity turned off and just have had a really hard time. A lot of these people haven’t been able to afford a meal or Christmas presents for their kids.”
Teachers and staff from the school determine which families will receive help and how much money to distribute to each family based on need. Twin Cities Rotary provides the families with gift cards from the Chehalis Walmart and Sunbird Shopping Center. Between 35-40 families were helped this year, Evinger said.
Rotary members then team up with school district staff to personally deliver the gift certificates. Each family is also given a thank-you card to mail back to the Twin Cities Rotary Club.
“We’ve had a lot of people break down when we hand the gift cards to them,” Cleveland said. “There’s been a lot of people who start crying. We’ve gotten thank-you letters on how much of a difference it made on their Christmas Day.”
Fundraising is traditionally kept internally by rotary club members, where they can donate clip money on the Christmas tree at each meeting, and highlighted by a private Christmas dinner fundraiser. This year, due to the pandemic, the meetings were done through Zoom, and the community's need was so great that it decided to open fundraising to the public, encouraging them to donate by mail in a check or pledge via email or Facebook.
Evinger said part of the reason fundraising exceeded expectations this year was due to the club having its best year of growth in recent memory, adding around 10-20 new members to finish with around 60 total members.
“We’ve got quite a diverse club now, lots of new people,” Ervinger said. “We’re trying to cede to a younger generation. There’s a new guard and a new energy.”