Virtually beneficial: Area fundraisers moving to online events

Indian Creek Nature Center plant sale, Joyful Noises concert among those going virtual amid coronavirus

Mary Kopecky, a member of the Friends of Indian Creek Nature Center and the Artist-in-Residence at the Cedar Rapids cent
Mary Kopecky, a member of the Friends of Indian Creek Nature Center and the Artist-in-Residence at the Cedar Rapids center, tends to the goods at the 2019 Plant & Art Sale. This year’s event is moving to an online ordering format, in keeping with the COVID-19 social distancing protocols. (Liz Zabel/Indian Creek Nature Center)

At a time when fundraisers would be springing up indoors and out, several area nonprofits are planting the seeds to grow their incomes online.

Massive outdoor walks are moving to solo or socially isolated formats, with times and distances reported online. A concert helping to provide sanctuary for homeless families is moving from its usual church sanctuary setting to a mass choir of joyful noises recorded separately then combined for home viewing. And a perennially popular plant sale is greening up, becoming a drive-by affair for picking up the items ordered online.

Indian Creek Nature Center plant sale

One of the Indian Creek Nature Center’s top fundraisers — behind the Maple Syrup Festival and Nature’s Noel — is the Spring Plant & Art Sale, which staff members believe to be in its 45th year. Nature’s Noel and the Plant Sale, both organized by the Friends of Indian Creek Nature Center, together raise $25,000 for the complex at 5300 Otis Rd. SE, Cedar Rapids. The holiday market typically brings in $18,000 and the spring sale, around $7,000,

Under normal circumstances, home gardening enthusiasts would flock to the Nature Center the first Saturday in May, to snap up annuals, perennials, vegetables, locally sourced artisan creations and the center’s own honey, maple syrup and seed packets.

But these aren’t normal circumstances.

Kathy Severson of Cedar Rapids, president of the Friends group, ordered the plants from the local Prochaska Greenhouse at the end of February. But by the middle of March, the nature center had closed to the public, and Severson knew something would have to change.

“I didn’t want to cancel the order from Prochaska and have them take a hit because of the coronavirus,” she said. “So I was envisioning having them deliver flowers to my driveway, and just letting everybody I know come over and buy flowers.”

A Friends member, however, suggested trying to sell them online, and after a conference call with organizers and nature center staff, the idea began to blossom.

“We are really dependent on our fundraisers,” Sarah Botkin, the Nature Center’s event coordinator, said. “This is one of our biggest fundraisers, and we didn’t want to cancel it, so we just got creative.”


When they discovered other nature centers and area businesses were moving sales online, they decided to see how they could adopt a similar model.

“It became pretty evident, because we knew if we needed to change it and were going to go online, we had to start kicking in the things right away,” Botkin said.

In the past few years, artisan vendors had been added to the spring sale, so organizers needed to contact them to see if they could participate in a virtual world.

“Eight vendors were able to adjust what they were doing and provide us with items,” Botkin said, and are offering vegetable plants, alpaca fiber art, upcycled outdoor items, garden accessories, art work and farm-fresh eggs.

The online store is open now through noon May 2 at

Shortly thereafter, buyers will be assigned a pickup day and time to come to the Nature Center for safe delivery. Shoppers will not get out of their vehicles. Instead, a worker will greet each vehicle, get the customer’s name and relay it to another worker at the plant shed. Shoppers will then pull up to the shed one by one, where their orders will be loaded into their vehicles.

“We will try and be very no-contact,” Botkin said.

Severson broadened the base of plants she ordered, adding more designed to attract butterflies and hummingbirds, and to insert more color into the options. Most will be priced between $5 and $6.

New offerings include angelonia, black and blue salvia, lantana and dragon wing begonias, along with the usual geraniums, gerbera daisies, million bells, wave petunias, which she said are “just gorgeous this year,” New Guinea impatiens, sweet potato vines, vinca, spikes, Mexican heather, coleus and purple and green Persian shield.


“I tried to get more variety, so there’s not millions of any one variety,” she noted. Milkweed also will be available at $2.50 per small pot.

Scott Koepke, farm manager at the Nature Center’s Etzel Sugar Grove Farm, is digging up and potting wildflowers like Dutchman’s breeches, and a team of volunteer diggers also are invited into local woodlands to harvest bluebells, Solomon’s seal, trillium and other perennial wildflowers. Some of the Friends members also divide up plants from their own gardens, like hostas.

Gardening is going to take on a bigger role in people’s lives this year, Severson said.

“It fills the need in your soul to be able to create something ... creating your own piece of beauty,” she said. “This year it’s going to be more important than ever, because so many people are stuck at home, and even when we can go out, I think we’re going to be reluctant to go to all the big things, so I think gardening will be huge this year.”

And it can provide a vital home schooling resource, Botkin added.

“The whole family can be involved in it,” she said. “Anytime you can get outside, just get some fresh air and get some sunshine on you feels so good, and (gardening) gives you a great reason to be doing that.

“Every member of the family can take part of it, and we still need some of those learning experiences for the kids, so this is a great show-and-tell experience. Everything from the worms in the dirt and what they’re doing to how does the sun and water help the plants, and now, look at the vegetable that’s coming out of here and what’s it gonna taste like, and the colors. You can get all of those senses involved.

“With all the different age ranges, you can have all kinds of different kinds of lessons out in the garden.”

The fruits of your labors reap aesthetic benefits as well, and stave off boredom.

“It’s always great to have something colorful and beautiful that you can look out in the yard at, so that helps on some of these days where, ‘Oh, we’re home — again,’ but you look out and you get a little ray of sunshine out there in your yard or on your porch,” Botkin said.

“The other thing is just getting out and working in the dirt. Especially if you’re doing the vegetables, you really get that sense of accomplishment. It’s exciting when you put that little plant in, give it a few weeks, and the next thing you know, there’s that fruit or that vegetable growing on it. Picking that vegetable, taking it inside and being able to eat it, there’s something about it — it tastes even better because you’ve put that work into it. Those good feelings are always nice to have.


“For those of us staying at home, it varies up our schedule a little bit. (You can) pull a weed or see how the flowers are doing. It gives you a little something to do that you might not have had otherwise.”

Botkin would love to see the online shopping experience raise “thousands” of dollars.

“At this point, it’s kind of hard for me to estimate. It could still net us several thousand dollars, potentially, with all the items that we have on there,” she said. “We’ll just have to see how people respond to it.”

Musicians unite for Family Promise

Now is the time when everyone is being advised to stay in their homes, leaving only for essential trips to the grocery store or medical appointments. But what if you have no home or any way to meet essential needs?

Family Promise of Linn County has created a faith-based network to keep families together while providing shelter, food and support services for getting children to school and parents to jobs or helping them seek jobs and housing.

Partner churches take turns hosting families overnight, but in light of the coronavirus pandemic, St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church in Cedar Rapids is serving as the sole shelter for a family in need, with contactless food deliveries by volunteers. The shelter rotation among faith communities will resume when it’s safe to do so.

“Low-income families will be very hard-hit by the pandemic through the loss of wages, jobs, transportation, and potentially child care. We are already beginning to see an increase in the number of those requesting services, and expect that number to grow in the coming weeks and months,” Executive Director Gordon Rey said in an email.

The organization’s largest fundraiser, the annual Joyful Noises concert, was slated for April 17, but has moved online, said Kay Galli of Cedar Rapids, who has served as producer for all nine years of the fundraiser. The call went out April 4 to musicians who have participated in the past, inviting them to create a virtual choir singing “This is My Wish.”

Steve Shanley and daughter Vivian volunteered to lay down the instrumental track. It was then sent to the performers, who recorded themselves singing along or playing an instrument. Participants include Lynne Rothrock, Reed Hoke, Connor Patty, Dylan Ascher, AJ Plummer, Haley Stamats, Bryan Mullen, Steve Stefani, Becky Collier, Nicki Neiderhiser, Suzanne Smith and the Shanleys.

The resulting video has been released with a fundraising campaign on and at Donation checks also can be mailed to Family Promise of Linn County, 310 Fifth St. SE, Cedar Rapids, IA 52401.


The concert typically raises about $10,000, and Galli said they’re hoping to reach that mark through a combination of donations in response to the video and other sources, like grants.

The online shift came “as soon as we realized we were going to have to cancel the April concert,” Galli said. “(Board members) then started trying to come up with a new idea. They’re a very creative board — they amaze me.”

She credited Anna Patty, the board’s vice president, with choosing the song and spearheading the video production. Galli was pleased at the response from the musicians who volunteered their time and artistry to the project.

“The first (video) that came back was from Lynne Rothrock,” Galli said. “I was so excited — she’s awesome.”

Galli also was thrilled to have Steve Shanley offer to do the accompaniment. “He was really great to do that for us. I’m sure that helped everybody.”

But with this new fundraising model comes a measure of uncertainty.

“It’s one of those things you hope works out,” Galli said. “We know we’re going to have a lot more families begging for help when this (social distancing) is over, and we want to be able to provide them services.”

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