Stacey Hunt says the committee working on this year’s HOPE Dinner and Auction wasn’t deterred by the coronavirus pandemic. Last year, it managed to hold the annual dinner despite an October blizzard, raising more than $150,000, said Jeff Trumbauer, principal of St. John’s Academy.
“We had one of the most successful dinners we’ve ever had, one of the most successful fundraisers we’ve ever had,” Hunt said of the dinner during the storm. “We’re really hoping the same thing happens during a pandemic.”
The HOPE Dinner and Auction raises funds that are used to reduce the cost of tuition for students and families at St. John's Academy, a Catholic elementary school. The beef tenderloin and shrimp dinner is scheduled on Oct. 3 at the academy and will be limited to 200 dinner guests this year to ensure enough social distancing due to COVID-19. An estimated 50 sponsors purchase a table or a portion of a table, and most tickets for the event are expected to be used by them, Trumbauer said.
The dinner, which is celebrating 30 years this year, has raised, conservatively, more than $2 million for the school since it began, Trumbauer said.
Hunt, a parent volunteer who is the co-chair of the HOPE Dinner Committee, said the committee debated through the summer whether to hold the annual event because of the pandemic.
“... we want to celebrate our school and raise money but also keep everybody safe,” she said. “Thank God that the school edition was just completed and ready for the opening of the school and thus for the event.”
The project, which is 99 percent complete, said Trumbauer, added 17,000 square feet of space including a chapel, administrative offices, a commons area, classrooms and an updated kitchen. The added room at the academy - almost double from what it was previously - will provide plenty of space for social distancing for those attending the dinner.
“These changes (to the school) couldn’t come at a better time because of COVID,” he said. The added space allows for social distancing not only for the dinner but for students and staff during school.
The theme for this year’s dinner is “30 Years of Hope,” Hunt said. The event will include recognition of sponsors, second-graders performing through a recorded performance that will be played that evening and a virtual silent auction conducted by Orr Auctioneers. People interested in bidding online may contact the school for the link to that auction, Trumbauer said.
“Even if you can’t come to the dinner we still want you to participate at home with us via the auction,” Hunt said.
There are currently 235 students in preschool through sixth grade attending St. John's Academy, Trumbauer said. The estimated cost of attending is about $8,000 per student per school year.
“The average cost, per student out-of-pocket cost is $2,700 and a large part of that is due to the generosity of others that comes through HOPE Dinner,” he said.
He said the academy is also supported by the parish and other fundraising events, but the HOPE Dinner and Auction has been the primary and the largest fundraising opportunity for the school. All proceeds from the dinner go directly to student and families to reduce the cost of attending the academy.
Trumbauer said the fundraiser is also important this year because the school spent additional funds to hire more teachers due to the pandemic.
“At the academy we felt that it was necessary to do everything that we can to ensure that face-to-face learning could continue as long as possible, hopefully for the duration of the school year,” he said.
As part of that, the academy hired more teachers in order to reduce the average class size below 15 students.
“This came at a substantial cost to the parish and to the school but we felt that it was necessary and that we wanted to assure our families that we were doing everything that we can so their child could receive the education that they are used to receiving here at the academy,” Trumbauer said.
Trumbauer said the HOPE Dinner committee is made up of volunteers who are parents of students and work hard to make the event a success each year.
“To find people willing to dedicate that amount of time and effort is a challenge and we’ve got a wonderful committee,” he said.