No phonus bolonus! The Spring Gala – the bee's knees of fundraising events for the Pickerington Food Pantry – is expected to return in March in hopes of gettin' spotted a few clams.
Scuttled by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic the past two years, the pantry's largest fundraiser is expected to return in 2022 with a Roaring Twenties theme.
With only days before the Pickerington Food Pantry was set to host its third annual Spring Gala in March 2020, surges in coronavirus cases led Gov. Mike DeWine to order shutdowns of all nonessential businesses and events throughout Ohio.
The gala, which raised close to $65,000 in its first two years, again was canceled this past spring as the pandemic continued.
In 2022, however, it appears the signature event is back on track.
The Spring Gala is slated to return from 7 p.m. to midnight March 12 at the Violet Township Wigwam Event Center, 10190 Blacklick-Eastern Road NW.
"It's our major fundraiser for the entire year, and we're excited to be bringing it back," said Vanessa Niekamp, executive director of the Pickerington Food Pantry. "It will mean a lot to the food pantry. Every dollar we raise equals $11 of retail food that we're able to provide to the community."
Tickets for the Spring Gala are $85 per person and are available at pickeringtonfoodpantry.org/.
"The Pickerington Food Pantry is an incredibly important resource for our community," said Cheryl Ricketts, vice president of administration and chief human-resources officer for CBI Global and a gala attendee. "While many in Violet Township live comfortably, over 20% of students in our school system are eligible for free or reduced(-price) lunch.
"In addition, residents can be impacted by the pandemic, fires and other emergencies. No matter why someone is in need, our local food pantry provides critical resources."
Ricketts said the gala "brings focus to current needs, how they are being addressed and provides financial resources for large purchases, like new freezers, and ongoing community needs."
"I’m delighted to support this important event," she said.
For this year's black-tie event, featuring dancing and a cash bar, guests are encouraged to attend dressed in their most glamourous 1920s attire.
Those who attend will receive dinner and $100 worth of tickets at the event's casino.
"People put in real money to the casino, and their winnings come back in raffle tickets they can use toward prize items," Niekamp said. "Prizes will include an amethyst ring donated by Edward Warren Jewelers, a year's worth of free car washes from Moo Moo (Express) Car Wash, gift baskets and gift cards from local restaurants. They also can purchase raffle tickets directly."
Niekamp said up to 350 tickets would be sold, but she noted that upwards of 100 people who purchased tickets for the 2020 Gala decided to keep their tickets for this year's event.
Although the proceeds from ticket sales go to finance the event and rent space at the Wigwam, all money from the bar, the casino and raffle goes to support the food pantry.
"The success of this event really helps me not have to come back to the community for additional support," Niekamp said. "This event can really sustain us for the bulk of the year."
Niekamp said funds raised at the gala would supplement recent assistance the food pantry has received from Violet Township and the Mid-Ohio Food Collective.
This year, she said, the township awarded the food pantry $9,000 to support its Meals on Wheels program.
Additionally, Niekamp said, the township gave $15,000 to the food pantry to help provide food to people within its boundaries.
"That support really equals $27 per senior (citizen) that's served by Meals on Wheels," she said. "The $15,000 given to the food pantry equals $13 per senior that is served by the food pantry."
Niekamp said the Mid-Ohio Food Collective has lifted some of the food pantry's service burden because, traditionally, the food pantry has served anyone living within the Pickerington Schools boundaries.
This year, however, the Mid-Ohio Food Collective has begun serving people living in the 43068 ZIP code in Reynoldsburg, which previously was part of the Pickerington Food Pantry's service area.
"That allowed the Pickerington Food Pantry to provide more service to those we serve," Niekamp said. "Prior to that, we could only service people once every 30 days, and they would receive eight to 10 days' worth of food for each person in the household. Now, because we have a smaller population, we actually are able to, if needed, see people every week."
Despite the assistance from the Mid-Ohio Food Collective, local need remains significant, Niekamp said, adding that the food pantry still serves 7,000 to 8,000 meals every month, and 20% of recipients are seniors.
Additionally, she said, unexpected events can have a tremendous impact on the number of people in need.
"We did see a 23% increase in our population in need within two weeks of things shutting down due to COVID in 2020," Niekamp said. "We're back to our numbers pre-COVID, but we never know what type of emergency will arise in our community.
"Thankfully, the food pantry was there because there was a lot more need in our community after (the onset) of COVID."
This article originally appeared on ThisWeek: Pickerington Food Pantry Spring Gala set to return, with Roaring Twenties theme