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Women Helping Women luncheon moves online to continue fundraising

With the COVID-19 pandemic prohibiting gatherings but increasing the need for services non-profits provide, the Women Helping Women Fund and the Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery decided not to cancel their fundraisers but instead move them online.

Amy Vega, from Vanessa Behan, and Heather Hamlin, executive director at WHWF, discussed their fundraising goals and online event plans at The Spokesman Review’s Northwest Passages book club Monday.

The Women Helping Women Fund is a local nonprofit dedicated to empowering women and children. The fund gives grants to local nonprofits each year after a lengthy vetting process, Hamlin explained.

This year, the fund received more than $1 million in funding requests, Hamlin said. Grants are awarded prior to the luncheon and then funds are raised.

The annual luncheon normally raises about $300,000 and is attended by over 2,300 people each May. It has been a fixture for the last 27 years.

“The annual benefit luncheon is the largest plated fundraiser in Spokane each year,” Hamlin said.

This year a virtual campaign replaced the luncheon and runs from the beginning of April until the end of May.

After canceling the in-person luncheon, WHWF moved their fundraising campaign online along with their speaker New York Times’ best-selling author, Stephanie Land. Land wrote, “Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and A Mother’s Will to Survive,” a memoir on poverty in the United States.

The event will be live streamed on Facebook at noon today.

All of the money raised during the fundraising campaign, which goes until the end of May, will help fulfill grants for 2020 recipients.

One of those recipients is the Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery. The crisis nursery is an emergency care facility that acts as a safe place for children to stay while families are in crisis.

Vega said the pandemic has left a number of children with significant needs that the nursery is caring for, requiring increased staffing.

“What we’ve actually seen is higher needs for our kiddos,” Vega said. “These are kiddos who are probably very reliant on being in school, having great programs and services, having great outlets for them.”

The crisis nursery has “really wrapped their arms” around families including those with high behavioral needs and older children.

Vanessa Behan’s luncheon raises a significant amount of money and provides a chance for families to share how the crisis nursery has helped them.

This year the event partnered with Hamilton Studios to help with pre-recording and to have a live portion, too.

“We want to keep as much of a sense of our traditional event but also reach as many people as possible,” Vega said.

The crisis nursery moved into a larger space earlier this year and is slowly raising the funds to increase the number of children they can serve.

“We would have spent this entire luncheon celebrating the ability to get into our new facility,” Vega said.

The new space allows for social distancing and smaller groups which has been key to staying open during the pandemic, Vega said.

This year’s luncheon will take place June 3 online at noon. Without seating limits, Vega said she hopes the virtual gathering is larger than the typical in person luncheon.

While both Vega and Hamlin said they were a bit nervous about their first online fundraiser, the pair hoped to inspire other non-profits as they adapt their fundraisers.

“Be nimble,” Hamlin said. “Be ready to plan again and again and again.”

Vega said they had been inspired by other fundraisers continuing during COVID.

“I would say give yourself and give other people grace,” Vega said. “We’re all doing the absolute best we can right now in adjusting to the complete unknown. There’s no road map.”