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Give Big Kern looks for biggest year ever after nonprofits ravaged by COVID

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In this file photo, staff from the Girl Scouts of Central California South were out in force during Give Big Kern 2018 to draw people for their fundraiser.

After an unprecedented year, Tuesday’s Give Big Kern aims to provide a huge boost to nonprofits that have struggled through the coronavirus pandemic.

An important resource to local charity organizations, Give Big Kern has steadily grown over the past six years. The day of giving hosted by the Kern Community Foundation nearly raised $750,000 in 2020. Given a 400 percent increase in donations since 2017, organizers hope 2021 will finally be the year when the event tops $1 million.

“Giving Day is supposed to grow, is supposed to pick up momentum as more of the community finds out about it, and more of the community becomes engaged with the nonprofits,” said Louis Medina, the foundation’s director of community impact. “That’s our big hope, that we can finally break that $1 million ceiling.”

Billed as “one day to celebrate the giving spirit of Kern County,” Give Big Kern provides a platform for more than a hundred local nonprofits to fund programs and activities that help thousands across the community.

While, officially, Give Big Kern takes place Tuesday, donations are now being accepted at givebigkern.org. On the site, potential donors can search out their favorite nonprofit and make an online contribution.

For many local nonprofits, the fundraiser has become an important part of their annual budgets.

“We’re a very small nonprofit, so the funds that we raise, it helps support our program throughout the year,” said Catherine Waldon, executive director of Independence Through Grace, a faith-based nonprofit that provides enrichment activities for adults with special needs.

The nonprofit has already raised $56,986 and hopes for even more. Through Give Big Kern, which supplies about a third of the group’s budget, Independence Through Grace provides music, cooking and even ballroom dance for the individuals in its program.

“We had never fundraised before Give Big Kern,” Waldon added. “It’s a great resource for our program.”

COVID-19 prevented many nonprofits from holding in-person fundraisers throughout 2020, making an online platform for donations even more important.

For Bakersfield ARC, which trains individuals with special needs to place them in permanent work, 2020 was also difficult because changes to state laws forced the program to change. The organization, which is partially funded through the state, is hoping to use Give Big Kern to expand its offerings to its clients.

“We are looking at how can we evolve as an organization to make our clients fully integrated into the community through work and recreation and the state limits our ability to do that,” Erika Dixon, BARC director of development, said of the money the organization receives from the state, which is limited to certain purposes. “So we need to raise big dollars to create more community-based opportunities for our clients.”

BARC hopes to provide a three-acre garden for its clients so they can grow and sell their own food at a farm stand. And that’s just the beginning.

“The team is sitting down and saying, ‘the sky is the limit, what do we do?’” Dixon said. “The fundraising dollars are incredibly important right now because, what we feel is that we have a whole new world laid out to us, and we just need to figure out how to go get it and pay for it.”

Volunteer opportunities are also available through Give Big Kern, for those interested. Many nonprofits saw a decrease in volunteers due to COVID concerns.

But with the big day coming up, perhaps that can be turned around, and maybe it will be the biggest year ever.

“We know that Kern County is a very giving community. We know that the people of Kern County like to give to their favorite causes. We know that a lot of people want to volunteer,” Medina said. “To us, that would signal this collective trend in giving that the community as a whole can come together and support charity collectively.”

You can reach Sam Morgen at 661-395-7415. You may also follow him on Twitter @smorgenTBC.