NEOSHO, Mo. — Crowder College Foundation will conduct its 18th annual Festival of Wreaths scholarship fundraiser on Nov. 10. Volunteers have been packaging auction items and decorating the venue at Crowder’s Longwell Museum.
Haley Reardon, assistant director of resource development and alumni relations at Crowder, has headed up the Festival of Wreaths for eight years, organizing volunteers and soliciting donations.
The donations sometimes come in the form of money, but are more often auction items such as gift baskets, décor and toys. Reardon said the event is entirely funded by donations and free to attend.
“People are good to Crowder College,” Reardon said. “We are so grateful, because even in a time of chaos and uncertainty, our donors have come through for us.”
Reardon said the event has been a unique auction in the area for several years, especially since it’s become electronically integrated. She said attendees have the option to bid in the silent auction online from mobile devices or computers. This has been a useful feature in preparing for the event under COVID-19 guidelines.
Besides the option to attend virtually, Reardon also has ensured that the check-in process at Longwell Museum is socially distanced and runs smoothly. The museum is inside of Crowder’s Elsie Plaster building. Reardon has designated classroom doorways as check-in stations throughout the wide hallway.
Reardon said she is trying to encourage as many people as possible to pre-register for the event to make check-in smoother. This year, attendees can register in advance by texting “FOW” to 243-725 to receive a link to the auction’s website.
After check-in, Reardon said attendees will be free to browse silent auction items, bid from their mobile devices and choose hors d’oeuvres to be plated for them. After the auctions have ended, Reardon said items will be can be picked up through the week, or if an attendee cannot make the trip, she said some volunteers will be available to deliver items.
“It will look and feel a bit different,” Reardon said, “but the goal is still the same. And that’s to raise as much money as we possibly can for our students.”
Reardon said the event is prepared and staffed mainly by volunteers. Some are students who benefit from foundation scholarships, and others are community members who enjoy helping out.
The foundation students are required to spend two to four hours volunteering, depending on their scholarship amount.
“Since they’re giving me something,” said Robin Hussong, a scholarship student, “I think it’s really important to give back to them and not just do community service but do something for the foundation.”
Jane Lant is a faithful volunteer. She used to own a bridal florist’s shop and has donated a wreath of some kind since the festival’s inception. When Reardon took over the responsibility of the event, she called in Lant’s help almost immediately. For eight years now, Lant has decorated, arranged Christmas trees and wreaths and packed baskets for the festival.
“It’s a work of love,” Lant said. “Cause I love what Crowder Community College stands for. They provide a top quality college education for its students, … and they just really care about their students.”
This year, Lant is decorating four trees. She said three will be placed in the silent auction and one in the live auction. Reardon said the live auction is usually composed of about 30 to 40 items that tend to be more expensive.
According to Reardon, the Festival of Wreaths has been a source of income for the college’s foundation scholarships since 2003. Reardon said the festival began as a live auction of only wreaths. She said in its first year, it raised about $4,000. Now, she said, the festival usually brings in $95,000 to $100,000 each year.
Reardon expects to make a comparable amount this year, despite having to alter the event. She said that the event’s sponsorship budget this year was $11,000, an amount very near normal.
Reardon said she was tentative in making her usual calls to stir up donations, worried about the pandemic’s effect on local businesses that normally donate. But the tables in the back room of Elsie Plaster are covered in ribbon, flowers and donated items to be assembled into baskets. Reardon said the volunteers’ job is to use the sponsorship money to make distinctive, beautiful pieces and to raise the value of donated items.
“Our sponsors have weathered the storm with us,” Reardon said, “and still feel strongly about helping students. And that’s where we really feel a responsibility.’’