By Haley Sawyer
In October, South Pasadena Educational Foundation board member Emilia Aldana stood in her front yard, masked and unsure, ready to hand out packets of phone numbers to volunteers in preparation for one of the nonprofit’s biggest fundraisers for South Pasadena Unified District schools.
The COVID-19 pandemic had completely changed how the drive was conducted, and no one could predict what the outcome would be, especially Aldana, who helped spearhead the Fall Fund Drive, when volunteers took the glossary of phone numbers and called from home on their own schedules between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m.
The results have been a much needed, happy surprise, Aldana said.
“We brought in more this year than we did last year,” she said. “It’s been really successful, and so much of that is [due to] the nature of South Pasadena in itself and the willingness of South Pasadena to provide for kids.”
The needs of SPEF, which raises funds to supplement the SPUSD’s budget, are still significant, but residents have donated if they are able or have promised to donate in the future.
SPEF’s first-ever virtual wine tasting, planned for this Saturday, Jan. 23, sold out in less than three months. Seventy-five people have registered for a night that includes three types of wine from Mission Wines paired with fine cheeses from Heirloom Bakery and Cafe and Nicole’s Market and Cafe.
Conceiving the idea for the event was easy, but making it an at-home experience was a challenge.
“We were like, how do we make this happen? Because we don’t have a winery in South Pasadena,” said event organizer Cheryl Simmons. “It kind of evolved, just talking, like, what can we do to make it easy?”
Simmons and SPEF decided to personally deliver the wine and food pre-packed by the cafes to the homes of those who had registered. A representative from Mission Wines will host the Zoom session and guide guests though an experience of the aromas and tastes of the selected wines.
The event doesn’t just raise money for South Pasadena schools. It also puts a spotlight on local businesses.
“All three businesses are excited also to be involved and have a fun event,” Simmons said. “I think in the beginning, my vision was not quite clear, like, I’m like putting feelers out. And now everyone is getting excited about it. Everyone is happy to come together to support the schools, but support the businesses at the same time.”
SPEF’s Trivia Nights have a dual purpose as well. The first Trivia Night, held virtually in December, was wildly successful and prompted the scheduling of a second for Feb. 26. Not only did the initial event raise money for the school district, it also brought the community together in a safe way.
“For me, that’s social capital,” Aldana said. “It’s remembering that we’re a part of a community. That we’re strong and in this together. The connection between people, getting to be with friends and neighbors and have fun and not necessarily talk about the pandemic or other ominous issues that are at the forefront right now.”
As in the First Trivia night, families and groups of friends can create themed teams on Zoom and answer a series of questions curated by Trivia LA, which hosts quiz competitions. Individuals can sign up for the event for $20 and teams can join for $95 at spef4kids.org.
Though the future manner in which students attend school is subject to change, the financial needs of the district remain. Although the Fall Fund Drive yielded many donations and virtual events help as well, SPEF doesn’t know how future fundraising will look.
“The need is pretty great,” Simmons said. “We had a wonderful Fall Fund Drive. We did really well. The community supported us but we don’t know how we’re going to raise money in the spring and summer. There’s a lot of uncertainty. We could have summer school. We might not.”
Whatever the future holds, Aldana said, she’s willing to stand in her front yard to hand out phone numbers to volunteers and Simmons is willing to deliver wine. It’s up to South Pasadena to continue its unwavering support.