DC charities get creative during coronavirus outbreak

D.C.-area charities have been forced to establish new ways to raise money as traditional methods and planned events have been altered by the coronavirus outbreak.

Spring is the time of year when many outdoor charity events are usually held. But the pandemic has challenged some charities to get creative.

“Unfortunately, the organization, as most nonprofits are right now, are taking a large hit because a lot of their in-person events are being canceled,” said Michael Sapienza, CEO of the Colorectal Cancer Alliance.

Their ScopeItOut 5K in D.C. was scheduled for this weekend. But with no public gatherings allowed, the organization moved the outdoor race into everyone’s homes.

“When all the news around coronavirus hit, we decided, ‘Let’s go virtual,'” Sapienza said. “People are going to be at home. Unfortunately, patients and their families still are dealing with cancer, and we still need to support them.”

The group is hoping those who signed up for the 5K find creative ways to get their runs in, perhaps substituting running for push-ups or walking around their homes, all the while practicing social distancing.

Race participants can also be part of the community event online.

“We have a whole program scheduled with physicians and patients to provide hope and really uplift the community, ways they can be interactive in terms of doing push-ups at their house,” Sapienza said.

The Colrectal Cancer Alliance is not the only charity that has had to find a creative way to raise funds.

The National Brain Tumor Society was gearing up for its major May fundraising event, Race for Hope DC. However, thousands gathering together quickly became unrealistic given the current circumstances.

“As soon as the Centers for Disease Control (and Prevention) sent out regulations and guidelines for no mass gatherings over 50 people all the way through May, we converted our in-person event into what will be a virtual event,” said David Arons, CEO of the National Brain Tumor Society.

Arons said the magic of these kinds of fundraising events is they make people feel as if they are part of a massive community. The organization is hoping it can keep that feeling alive online.

Arons wants to give people the opportunity “to engage in charitable giving through online campaigns, to take quizzes online and then ultimately to engage live in this platform where people will be able to put their computer camera right on themselves and say hello to a D.C.-area audience of the brain tumor community.”

Arons said dealing with the constantly changing COVID-19 situation has been challenging for charities because the attention of all Americans has turned to how to beat the virus, how to keep their jobs or how to protect their families.

While the economy is currently struggling, the charity is getting more calls for help, Arons said.

“We’re taking more patient calls than ever,” Arons said. “We’re in total service mode right now as part of the infrastructure of helping families navigate the health care system at this time.”

But at the same time, he said the group needs the resources to make sure its mission continues.

His advice for other charities trying to figure out how to forge forward in these trying times?

“Be sensitive to where people are at, living right now,” Arons said. ”A lot of people just lost their jobs. A lot of people are uncertain about their futures. People are worried about getting the COVID-19 virus, and they need care and comfort. That said, tell people you need them more than ever. Because we do. That’s the honest truth.”

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Michelle Murillo

Michelle Murillo has been a part of the WTOP family since 2014. She started her career in Central Florida before working in radio in New York City and Philadelphia.

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