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Fundraisers: The Creative, The Innovative, The Unique

March 3, 2005

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    Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps Photo:

In the wake of last December’s Indian Ocean tsunami, Mercy Corps received dozens of donations from ordinary people who didn’t have a lot to give, but found a way to give a lot more.

Below are four brief, heartwarming stories about individuals who exemplify a skill we’ve seen from many donors: the ability to develop and execute creative, innovative and heartfelt fundraisers to benefit tsunami survivors.

“These people figured out how to use their creativity and their own special talents to raise money for a good cause,” said David Evans, Mercy Corps’ community partnership officer. “In doing so, they made it rewarding for themselves, for those who participated in their events and for the people of South Asia, the ultimate beneficiaries of their generosity.”

We hope their stories encourage you to consider the countless ways in which we can help others in need.

Waterside Walk-A-Thon
In Tucson, Arizona, 13 year-old Julia Restin decided to counter the destructive force of the South Asian tsunami with her own “tsunami of love.”

“My mom and I were talking about how we wanted to help the people affected by the tsunami,” she explained. After hearing National Public Radio (NPR) interview a Mercy Corps staffer in the tsunami-affected region, their first impulse was to launch a shoe drive. But after learning that Mercy Corps does not accept material donations, they came up with the next best thing. “We live in a great spot which is close to a creek, “ Julia says, “so we decided to do a walk or a run.”

For the next week, Julia and her parents advertised the event to neighbors, friends and classmates through email announcements and printed flyers that began, “Let’s make a tsunami of love.”

She and her dad awoke early on Saturday, January 15 to mark the four-mile loop with pink balloons. Later that morning about 100 people walked or ran the route. Contributions from the event totaled $5,000.

“I learned that if you can start to help, you can give ideas to other people so that they can help, and eventually a lot of people will end up helping,” said Julia. Not a bad way to learn about the power of one.

A Night at the Improv
Improvisational comedy isn’t usually associated with natural disasters. But Portland artist Nate Halloran drew on his connections in the local improv community to pull together a multi-act performance that drew about 100 spectators and raised about $600 for tsunami-relief efforts.

Halloran, 31, has directed, taught, produced and performed improvisational comedy for the past seven years. To recruit acts for the February 9 benefit, he called colleagues and posted messages on and a theater website. He also contacted Richard Beer of the Oregon Film and Video Foundation, owner of the Hollywood Theater in Northeast Portland. Beer agreed to donate space for a Wednesday-night performance and suggested Mercy Corps as the beneficiary.

Musicians, sketch comedians, improvisational actors and a stand-up routine by veteran comic Tom Johnson - which delicately addressed the tsunami with wit and tenderness - highlighted the 2 1/2-hour show.

If there is a link between improv and a devastating tsunami, Halloran offered, it may be the idea of impermanence - both a one-of-a-kind sketch routine and a natural disaster could remind people to cherish the moment. Halloran says his first aim, however, is to make people laugh, “and at best, maybe think a little.”

Bartending Benefit
Kurt Goetzinger, a 35-year-old bartender at a neighborhood pub in Southeast Portland, donated all his wages and tips from a Sunday-night shift to Mercy Corps’ tsunami-relief fund.

Goetzinger was vacationing on the west coast of Thailand two weeks before the tsunami struck. Two friends who stayed behind survived the wave, and one lent his carpentry skills to the rebuilding effort. “If I was there, I’d be doing the same thing,” Goetzinger says.

Instead, he posted hand-lettered flyers full of wacky, self-deprecating humor that announced his one-man benefit and a promise to shave off his 10-year-old goatee during the event.

His wages and tips that night totaled $405 - nearly four times more than usual. “I’d become cynical working in a bar for the last ten years,” said Goetzinger, “but I was just amazed at the amount of money that was brought in.”

An Evening of Music and Memories
When news of the tsunami reached Portland photographer and pianist Michael Paige, he had already reserved downtown’s The Old Church, an immaculately restored 1883 gothic cathedral, for a Saturday-night performance in late January. So he decided to turn the evening into a benefit for Mercy Corps.

His poignant, 2 1/2-hour show mixed photographs of weddings, people he met on trips abroad and other emotive shots with original piano compositions. Paige also told several touching stories over the course of the evening, including one about a single mother of six he met when she was selling ears of corn on the streets of Cairo. “I used that to lubricate the generosity of the audience,” he explained. “I wanted people to have an experience.”

A free raffle during the event featured gift-shop items, film-store coupons and other prizes donated by local businesses. All the equipment and technical support was provided in-kind. In all, the evening raised $1,200 for Mercy Corps. “The generosity,” Paige said, “was just overwhelming.”