Just about anybody who grew up Catholic in the United States in recent decades remembers selling raffle tickets for one thing or another, and being in parish halls full of eager bingo players hoping to win the week’s big prize.
Parishes and schools in the Diocese of Charleston have to be more inventive when it comes to raising funds, however, because S.C. state law banned games of chance, and that includes raffles. The only legal game of chance is the S.C. State Education Lottery.
Father Richard D. Harris, vicar general, recently addressed the issue in a letter to parish and school leaders, reminding them that diocesan bishops have supported a ban on games of chance and bingo since the 1980s.
Proposed legislation would allow nonprofit organizations, including churches, to hold raffles. Until that passes, churches and schools cannot use raffles to raise funds.
Several parishes and schools have popular events that raise money in creative and entertaining ways.
One of the best known is the Taste of the Town, sponsored by St. Andrew School in Myrtle Beach. It will celebrate its 28th anniversary this year. The event draws chefs from about 50 Grand Strand restaurants who prepare dishes and compete for awards such as Best Entrée and the coveted People’s Choice prize. Crowds of up to 10,000 people pack the Myrtle Beach Convention Center for the culinary competition each October.
“It’s become a town event as well as a parish event,” said Carlette Reynolds, administrative assistant at St. Andrew. “Locals come each year and look forward to seeing each other.”
Molly Halasz, principal at St. Andrew School, said it requires about 500 volunteers to staff Taste of the Town, which takes about a year to plan. She said a third of the featured restaurants are new to the market.
St. Andrew also raises money for scholarships with an annual “Back to School Bash” which features a silent auction, golf tournament, picnic supper and children’s events.
Immaculate Conception Church in Goose Creek raises money through a “Taste of Goose Creek,” held every spring. This year it will be April 20.
“We have a very diverse community here, and this is a way for all these groups to come together and show their culinary specialties,” said Adorno Father Nicholas Capitola, parish administrator.
The event draws thousands of people who sample foods cooked by members of the church’s large Filipino and Hispanic communities, but it also features Polish, Italian and other cuisines.
The fundraiser includes live music, children’s games, a white elephant sale and an auction.
Since 1988, St. Mary Help of Christians School in Aiken has relied on the annual Chocolate Festival, held each October in the city center.
“It’s our main fundraiser, so we don’t have to keep hitting the parents for more funds throughout the year,” said Peggy Wertz, principal.
Plenty of homemade chocolates are sold at the festival, which features live entertainment, an international dinner, children’s rides, a plant sale and other events.
Other churches and schools rely on music or the cry of the auctioneer to raise money.
At St. Gregory the Great Church in Bluffton, a big band dance and dinner held each winter has become a popular social event and major fundraiser, said Joe Ruoto, parish manager.
“We use money from the event for basic parish operating costs,” Ruoto said. “The dance has started to attract a wide group of people, from our large community of retirees to some of the young families.”
St. Gregory the Great School, meanwhile, relies on an auction and dinner to bring in capital each year.
Sts. Cyril and Methodius Sister Canice Adams, principal, said every family in the school is asked to participate in some way, whether through donating items, money or volunteer work for the school.
“We don’t sell candy or anything else during the year, so everybody has to do their part,” Sister Canice said.
The event regularly raises about $35,000 for special projects at the school.
Students used their feet this past fall in a walk-a-thon to help make money for St. Paul the Apostle School in Spartanburg, said Patricia Lanthier, principal. The funds they collected helped build a new playground.
Lanthier said the Parent Teacher Organization also sponsors a popular “Shrimp Fest,” featuring traditional Lowcountry food. The proceeds purchased SMART Boards for classrooms.
The “no raffles” rule has been difficult for some people to understand, especially those who come from states where raffles and bingo are commonplace. Profits from those popular draws have been a challenge to replace.
Wertz said a raffle held in conjunction with the annual Chocolate Festival brought in thousands of dollars.
Creativity and communication are the keys to effective fundraising, she said.
“See what your community is lacking,” Wertz said. “Consider trying a festival if the community isn’t already saturated with them. Try a food event if there isn’t already an event like that in the area. Bring in parishioners and bring in the community to organize the event, and market it to the community as a whole.”