JEFFERSON — Tomorrow’s Hope is all about health: promoting research, prevention, treatment, and care for people in the greater Jefferson County area who are affected by life-limiting illnesses.

And right now, the biggest illness affecting everyone’s lives right is COVID-19.

Whether or not you’ve actually gotten the disease, let alone been hospitalized for it, there’s no denying that COVID-19 has impacted all of our lives in a devastating way as the world struggles to come to grips with the pandemic.

Thus, it hardly comes as a surprise that the coronavirus has claimed yet another victim: the planned Hope Fest, which Tomorrow’s Hope originally had set for July 17.

This would have been the 23rd annual Hope Fest.

With the spread of COVID-19 advancing across our nation and state, Tomorrow’s Hope officials said, it would have been imprudent and unwise to hold the kind of large, in-person event Tomorrow’s Hope has hosted in the past.

However, the local health-care nonprofit has been far from inactive, even while the pandemic rages around the globe.

The nonprofit has been busy administering its COVID-19 related gift card campaign, aimed at boosting hard-hit local businesses while also assisting some of the most vulnerable residents in the area.

Meanwhile, a new T-shirt fundraiser is in the works to commemorate the “quarantine year” and support the nonprofit’s continuing operations.

“Much like all small local businesses and nonpropfits during this time, we are challenged in keeping our mission moving forward during this time,” said Todd Wiedenhoeft, executive director of Tomorrow’s Hope.

“Having to cancel Hope Fest 2020 hasn’t made it any easier,” he said. “I think everyone understands the reason for the cancellation, but it’s like a punch in the nose for our organization,” he said, noting that Hope Fest has been Tomorrow’s Hope’s main annual fundraising event since 1998.

“That’s where the money comes from to run our organization and to support the people and programs we surround throughout the area communities,” he added.

Earlier in the year, coordinators had been working diligently to plan the logistics for the 2020 Hope Fest, and representatives had been looking forward to announcing some new Tomorrow’s Hope programs at the event, Weidenhoeft said.

“But to hold such an event during the COVID-19 pandemic would have been too risky,” he said.

Nevertheless, Wiedenhoeft said, Tomorrow’s Hope is committed to continuing to move forward with its mission to improve the local health-care system and thus to improve health outcomes for local residents.

For the time being, carrying on will mean “running leaner” and taking on smaller, lower-cost initiatives so that everyone can get through the pandemic together.

The T-shirt promotion, commemorating the quarantine year and the festival that wasn’t, is not only a fundraiser, but also a sign of Tomorrow’s Hope’s commitment to weathering the current situation to get to a brighter future.

Wiedenhoeft said that T-shirts will be priced to cover printing costs while also raising funds for the local nonprofit’s vital work.

In the official cancellation announcement on the group’s Facebook page, Wiedenhoeft noted that over the past couple months, organizers have been evaluating various options for Hope Fest 2020, trying to find some form in which the event could continue despite the pandemic.

“It is with great sadness and disappointment that we announce the cancellation,” the Facebook notice said.

“Our decision comes down to the health and safety of all (who) participate,” the notice said. “We are in an unprecedented situation with the COVID- 19 pandemic that we must take seriously, in order to protect our volunteers, sponsors, vendors, teams, survivors, recipients, participants, businesses and the community as a whole.

“Your health and safety are our No. 1 concern,” he said. “Anything else would go against our purpose, our mission.”

Wiedenhoeft said that he knew the news would be a great disappointment to many who look forward to the fest as one of the highlights of their year and a meaningful occasion for themselves and their families.

“Please know we share that disappointment with you,” he said. “Unfortunately, there are too many unknowns, coupled with recommended restrictions, that significantly limit our ability to put together a successful and meaningful event while guaranteeing your safety from the COVID-19 virus.”

“As we look to the future full of Hope, we hope you will continue your support of Tomorrow’s Hope,” the Facebook message said. “With your continued support, we will get through this storm together.

“Our mission is so important and impactful to Jefferson County that it must go on, even without our annual Hope Fest event this year,” the Facebook notice said, urging supporters to keep well, be safe and stay healthy.

Hope for community

One project that the local nonprofit has been working on during the pandemic has been its new “Hope for Community” program.

“Hope for Community has been really well-received,” Wiedenhoeft said. “Thus far, we have raised around $2,700 through this program.”

These funds have been used to purchase gift cards from Jefferson-area businesses which have been heavily affected by the pandemic-related shutdowns.

The nonprofit then distributed these gift cards, through the cooperation of local churches, to area residents deemed to be the most vulnerable during the pandemic — those at the highest risk for COVID-19 complications due to prior conditions such as diabetes or cancer treatment.

This effort is continuing, Wiedenhoeft said.

“We are in the process of purchasing another $700 worth of gift cards that will be distributed out over the next couple weeks,” he said.

As the local nonprofit worked to continue its key mission under less-than-ideal circumstances, organizers came up with the idea of the new T-shirt fundraiser to support its continuing work.

The T-shirt campaign will give Tomorrow’s Hope supporters a chance to boost the local nonprofit while obtaining a souvenir of these strange times.

“Many people have been collected Hope Fest T-shirts over the years, and we wanted to offer a little bit of ‘Hope Fest’ to our supporters and beyond while also raising funds to help weather this storm and continue our mission,” Wiedenhoeft said.

Wiedenhoeft said that the nonprofit will offer T-shirts in six different colors and a couple of different styles, featuring the Tomorrow’s Hope logo and the theme “Mission Essential.” Cost is $40.

The front of the shirt features a small, tasteful logo, while the back, in larger print, reads, “They can quarantine the fest, but not the Hope.”

This fundraiser will run for a limited time. Supporters will have about one month to place T-shirt orders, after which the T-shirts will be printed and shipped directly to purchasers.

Online orders may be submitted at the following web address: https://www.customink.com/fundraising/tomorrows-hope-mission-essential-tshirt-fundraiser.

The link should be active by Wednesday, Wiedenhoeft said.

People will also be able to get to the link through the Tomorrow’s Hope Facebook page and the nonprofit’s website: www.tomorrowshope.org.

Those who are not able to use a computer to make their purchases may contact Wiedenhoeft directly at the Tomorrow’s Hope office located at 144 W. Garland, Jefferson.

He will be available on site between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. on July 22 and 23 to assist people with their orders, with the caveat that social-distancing guidelines must be followed. He also is available by telephone at (920) 988-5101.

A debit or credit card will be necessary to place orders.

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