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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Rotary Club 21 revs up fundraising amid pandemic

Ira Amstadter, donning a gorilla suit, and his English Labrador Bear visit a Rotarian food distribution event at Stevens Elementary School. (Courtesy)
Ira Amstadter, donning a gorilla suit, and his English Labrador Bear visit a Rotarian food distribution event at Stevens Elementary School. (Courtesy)

Local Rotary clubs typically award grants to community organizations every year, but when things shut down for the coronavirus pandemic, the Spokane Rotary 21 club swung into a higher gear.

“When the COVID thing hit us, we got together and created a special response strike force,” said club president Paul Viren. “We have really tried to focus those energies on the most vulnerable.”

The club, which dates to 1911, is one of the oldest in the country. “We call ourselves Rotary 21 because we’re the 21st club to be founded,” Viren said.

The club typically raises money from its 250 members every fall to help fund its annual grants, a portion of which is also funded by the club’s endowment. “Every year we give away about $200,000 to local and sometimes international projects,” he said.

But this year was different. The club did a special fundraising campaign this spring so it could do make more grants. All the money came from Rotary members because the club didn’t want to compete with other community fundraisers, Viren said. “It’s all amongst us members,” he said. “Other Rotary clubs have been helping with this.”

They also mobilized volunteers, who have been delivering meals with Spokane Food Fighters and handing out boxes of food at Stevens Elementary School, among other efforts.

The club put out the word that it had money to give and local organizations responded. The club paid for everything from refrigerators for Caritas Outreach Ministry to a four-pan electric hot warmer for the homeless food program run by Shalom Ministries.

Many of the organizations that received funding were food-related, including $2,500 to Spokane Food Fighters, which delivers hot meals to those in need; $4,000 to the Serve Spokane Food Bank; $5,000 to Women and Children’s Free Restaurant; $5,000 to Bite2Go; $30,000 to Inland Northwest Second Harvest; $10,000 to Stevens Elementary School for food distribution; $5,000 to Spokane Valley Partners; and $4,800 to Meals on Wheels Spokane.

Other grants included $2,500 to Family Promise of Spokane; $2,500 to Big Table; $1,500 to Sally’s House; $2,000 to Goodwill Industries of the Inland Northwest; $3,485 to the Wishing Star Foundation; $2,000 to Girl Scouts Eastern Washington and North Idaho; $4,228 to Shriners Hospital for Children; $3,500 to Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Inland Northwest; $2,000 to All Heart Infusion; $1,000 to Light a Lamp; and $1,500 to the Coffee for Nurses project at Sacred Heart Medical Center.

“That’s one of the many things we’re working on,” Viren said of the food organization donations.

The club has given away just under $100,000 in 90 days. More grants totaling between $20,000 and $30,000 are expected to be approved this week. “We probably still have more to do before the end of the fiscal year, which is in June,” Viren said.

And once the new fiscal year starts, the club plans to continue with the community grants, this time using money from reserves until the usual fall fundraiser can bring in more donations.

“We’re not going to stop,” he said. “We’re just doing what we can to help and fill in those gaps. We’re making a difference.”

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