Meals on Wheels rolls up plans

Woman tasting cooking

Meals on Wheels San Diego expected to host a major fundraiser on Aug. 14 with all proceeds slated to directly support meal delivery for local seniors in need. Instead, like many other organizations, they decided to cancel their event with COVID cases on the rise again in San Diego County.

This particular fundraiser was initially unique in its announcement specifically because it addressed changing COVID-related concerns from the start: the drive-in style Grease Sing-Along left room for organizers to loosen or tighten the event. As COVID rates have potential to fluctuate, details were built in that could potentially allow the event to proceed with more distancing if there was cause for concern.

Still, they canceled.

This is the fourth event they have canceled since the start of the pandemic and that means loss of revenue for the non-profit organization.

Meals On Wheels San Diego Chief Executive Officer Brent Wakefield said canceling the gala as well as having canceled their annual March for Meals walk several months ago “means that we are down about $300K in our event revenue,” while the organization faced a 47% increase in demand for service at the beginning of the pandemic that has remained high.

They also shifted some of their events online in 2020, rendering less profitable results than usual.

“We had to change our March 2020 Walk to a virtual event, which produced less income and our gala last year was virtual and we raised less money than usual,” Wakefield said.

That money would have gone to the hot meals they typically deliver, seven days a week, to senior citizens across the county. However, Wakefield also said there is a silver lining to be found in how sponsors chose to push through with their donations and he is altogether optimistic about the situation.

“The silver lining for us has been that some folks allowed us to put their sponsorships of our event toward our programs, including major sponsors like Union Bank, SDG&E, Scatena Daniels and the McKinney family. And in general, we have seen about a 48% increase in donations and grants overall in this last year that have allowed us to meet the growth in demand for our services,” Wakefield said.

The community has been very understanding, he said.  “Like I often tell our supporters, hot meals and warm smiles are only possible thanks to the army of volunteers and supporters that are there for us,” Wakefield said.

In another hint at a silver lining, he said, many individuals have continued to offer support even without in-person events. Practically speaking, he doesn’t anticipate this year’s lost revenue drastically affecting years to come unless they are unable to locate revenue to offset what would have been earned at the in-person events.

For now, opportunity tickets are still available for the canceled Gala event. Wakefield is hopeful that funding will come in through that avenue and that the delay in holding in-person events will bolster future fundraisers.

“The fruits of delayed gratification are far sweeter, aren’t they? When we finally do get to come together to celebrate our success and raise money, it’s going to be really impactful,” Wakefield said.

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