By Shaun Ryan
It’s been a tough year for nonprofits. The fundraisers they count on to carry out their missions usually require people to gather for events, but the pandemic has forced most of these to be canceled.
And, like so many other organizations, the local Make-A-Wish chapter has been struggling. Two of the biggest fundraisers – Walk For Wishes and Wishmaker’s Ball, planned for the Marriott Sawgrass – had to be canceled this year.
According to Mike Sobiecki, a member of the Make-A-Wish Northeast Florida advisory board since 2015, the chapter is bringing in only about 20% of the funds it normally raises.
And that means fewer children are having their wishes granted.
“Our local chapter had to postpone over 80 wishes since March due to COVID-19,” Sobiecki said. “We currently have 550 local children waiting for their wishes!”
The organization has been trying to grant wishes even during the pandemic, including online shopping sprees, room re-dos, gaming computers and staycations.
Still, Sobiecki knew he had to find a way to raise money. On average the cost of granting a single wish is about $8,000, so he would have to be creative.
“I decided to raise money by smoking and selling 160 smoked pork butts,” he said.
In October, he spoke with neighbor and friend Kevin Sides, an award-winning participant in barbecue competitions in four states who had done a similar fundraiser for his son’s Boy Scout troop last year.
Still, it was a big job for just two men.
“Luckily, we have friends who have big smokers, too,” Sobiecki said. “We had four commercial smokers on trailers, and then we utilized a bunch of single backyard smokers to help.”
So, over this past weekend, Sobiecki, Sides and a few friends worked for up to about 40 hours getting the food prepared and smoked. Over a six-hour period on Saturday, Nov. 14, members of the Sobiecki and Sides families and several neighbors and friends gathered in Sides’ front driveway in TPC Sawgrass to distribute the food to those who had placed orders.
The effort was a success. Not only did Sobiecki reach his goal of $8,000, people made additional donations of $2,720.
The success of the barbecue has led Sobiecki and Sides to consider making it an annual fundraiser each November.
“We learned a lot this year, so now we’ve got people wanting to really help out next year,” Sobiecki said.