Halloween Party Fundraiser… with a Twist
When you find yourself at a Halloween party full of people paying big bucks to dress the town tough guy as a fairy princess, then you know it isn’t an ordinary Rotary fundraiser.
Desperate Times Lead to a Brilliant Fundraiser
Ed Gallagher and his wife Karin-Susan Breitlauch are known for their fun Halloween parties. In fact, they have been embracing the holiday for more than 25 years. Little did they know one day two years ago, that it was Halloween and their creativity that would avert disaster.
Gallagher and Breitlauch had been fundraising for Operation Warm as part of the West End Rotary Club’s project. Breitlauch, by the way, happens to be the Rotary 7410 district governor, with jurisdiction over 43 clubs within the district. The club’s go to fundraiser in years past was an October car show. Entrance to the show raised funds for brand new coats for local children in need.
Unfortunately, two years ago, Mother Nature had other plans. “It snowed that day, in October,” Gallagher says. “It snowed just enough to destroy the show, so we didn’t raise anything.”
Adult Halloween Party for Good
Not wanting to disappoint the kids who were looking forward to a warm winter in their new coats, the husband and wife team knew they needed to think fast. “My wife and I had to figure out how we could raise the money,” he says. It was then that they decided to use their annual party and turn it into an adult Halloween fundraiser.
“We called everyone up, all of our friends, and asked them to bring costumes,” he says. “We told everyone to show in street clothes, and that they could bid to put someone else in a costume.” There is a $10 “entry fee” to participate. After that, guests make bids to dress other guests of their choosing. No one can be “bought” for less than $100.
While they were hoping their idea would help bring in donations for coats, they didn’t realize how much fun it would be or the direction it would take. “So you can literally screw your friend over. You can bid people up—we have a board to keep track, and the donations just build up,” Gallagher says. “Even in that first year, it was a big hit with wives who wanted to dress their husbands in embarrassing costumes.” In fact, he tells us, that the demand for French maid outfits, unicorns and fake female body parts are at an all-time high. “It is definitely an adult Halloween party.”
“We now have more than 400 costumes we’ve collected, “ Gallagher says. They very cleverly collect discarded costumes and costume pieces from sales and thrift stores after Halloween.
Adult Halloween Party Fun and Games
Donated prizes are awarded to participants in all-in-fun costume categories, such as “Most Likely to Get Arrested Walking into Walmart.”
In addition to the costume bidding wars, additional money is raised through games and props. If a guest gets caught and locked in a stockade, for example, they must pay to get out. A homemade electric chair promises a shock of three volts if the guest refuses to donate. “A lot of my friends are willing to come out and make idiots of themselves,” he says.
By not taking it seriously, as Gallagher puts it, the fundraiser is bringing in some big dollars for Operation Warm. While guests have fun dressing each other, they are also dressing children in need in the warm winter coats they need to get through the season. It allows Gallagher, Breitlauch, their guests and the West End Rotary Club the opportunity to empower children. These kids will now have the chance to get to school and get fresh air and exercise in the fall and winter months.
Raising Money for Coats for Kids
“We are in a high recreational area,” he says. “There aren’t a lot of jobs for residents and a lot of families with low income. It seemed like the right thing to do; the right charity to get involved with.”
While it started as a “gut reaction,” the fundraiser raised several thousand dollars last year alone to provide more than 150 coats to their community. Gallagher is confident this year will be even more successful. He tells other fundraisers that this idea is easy to put together. “We just had a fundraiser fall on its face. We pulled the first one off in two weeks.”
“Most people have old costumes laying around. All you need to do is get friends together. It could be put together very cheaply, because you can use odds and ends for costumes—that is part of the fun,” he says. “Some of the thrift stores will sell these costumes for 50 cents each.”
“The West End Rotary Club’s unique Halloween fundraiser is by far the most hilarious event I have seen,” says Brandon Smith, Partner Development Manager at Operation Warm. “When I met Ed Gallagher at a PETS Conference this past year, he showed me pictures of what these wonderful, crazy Rotarians subject themselves to in the name of community service. My initial response was: ‘Wow. Just…wow.’
“These service-minded people are creative, fun and hardworking enough to persevere through turbulent weather year after year just to help their community. We here at Operation Warm appreciate what they do, and everyone but HR gets a kick out of their photos.”
In 2017, the Adult Halloween Party Fundraiser raised more than $2,000. For 2018, the West End Rotary Club is well on its way to meeting or exceeding those funds. They will be partnering with a church coalition and the West End Fire Department to distribute the coats to kids in need. Ed Gallagher welcomes a chance to speak to other Rotarians about his fundraiser or the Operation Warm coats for kids program.
Interested in starting an Operation Warm community service project with your club?