GIFT GUIDE 2020: Miss social events? Then donate to the organizations that host them

It’s probably a safe bet to say you miss going out. Even with the majority of the state reopened and capacity restrictions eased in restaurants and retailers, our lives are far from back to normal.

In this new era of social distancing, movie theaters and museums are open, but the days of gathering comfortably at concerts, massive outdoor festivals, and church services are still well beyond our reach as COVID cases continue to surge. This year, organizers of block parties and parades cancelled events, hoping to reschedule the festivities for next year– but, at this point, hopes of full scale revelry in 2021 are looking bleak.

The Central Alabama Caribbean American Organization, a Birmingham-area organization devoted to celebrating Caribbean culture– normally has a festival in June to commemorate Caribbean American Heritage month.

Nearly 5,000 people attended last year’s festival in Bessemer says CACAO’s founder and president, Pauline Caesar.

“We were all excited to do it even bigger this year. And then of course, COVID-19 set in. So, out of an abundance of caution, we just cancelled everything.”

Since so many people were looking forward to the festival, the group decided to host a day of digital festivities on June 13, streamed live on Facebook. For a little over four hours, DJs from Birmingham, Los Angeles, and Atlanta played reggae and soca music while officials from various tourism offices and Caribbean islands logged in to give viewers well wishes.

“We decided to do something virtual just to let people know that it was Caribbean Heritage Month, but we wanted to let people know that they were still here and still very much engaged,” said Caesar.

She says CACAO was able to raise about $1,200 from the June event. They split the money in half: Part of the funds went to the organization’s college scholarship fund for students with Caribbean heritage. The group donated the other half of the proceeds to the Equal Justice Initiative.

The pandemic also forced CACAO to cancel its biggest fundraiser of the year– it’s annual December gala. In a normal year, the dinner event helps the organization bring in about $8,000, a pool of money the group uses to fund events and it’s scholarship program.

CACAO has sponsors who have been with them for years, including Blue Cross Blue Shield and Alabama Power. But aside from those donors, it’s up to the group to cover the cost of booking entertainers and the facilities for their events. CACAO also draws a percentage of its income from membership dues, which help cover expenses.

Aside from the virtual festival, the group hasn’t had any additional fundraising events since June. Looking toward next year, Caesar says it’s highly unlikely that the organization will host any large, in-person gatherings, including the festival.

“We definitely don’t think that we will be hosting the festival because the vaccine won’t be widely distributed enough by then for us to convene in any large numbers. So we don’t want to take that risk. Our largest fundraising event will probably be the dinner in 2021. In advance of that, we’re kind of counting on donations from our membership.”

However, there was a semblance of a silver lining this year. Since CACAO didn’t host any events, it used the extra money in its budget to award $1,000 scholarships to three students. So far, Caesar says the organization hopes to make that money up next year, possibly with another virtual fundraiser.

Episcopal Place, the Birmingham organization devoted to providing low- income seniors and disabled adults with affordable housing, also had to cancel its largest fundraiser of the year: the famed annual gumbo cooking competition, Gumbo Gala.

In lieu of hosting the April competition in its traditional form at Birmingham’s Sloss Furnaces, Episcopal Place compiled a list of restaurants that previously participated in the competition, encouraging people to order takeout to support the local eateries that pivoted to takeout-only service after state health officials shuttered on-premise dining.

“So many of the restaurants were not open, or were open for an abbreviated time. We were hoping to make it more about the restaurants,” said Episcopal Place Executive Director Tim Blanton. “And to say ‘you’ve supported us all these years, it’s time for us to support you. Just to get people in their doors.’”

Episcopal Place did not receive any money from that effort, but there was a silver lining: A lot of the sponsors who had already donated money for the gala allowed the mission to keep the funds.

“There was only one sponsor, a small, family owned business that asked for their money back. But all the other sponsors said ‘just keep it,’”said Blanton. “Even though we weren’t able to have the event, we were able to do pretty dang well. So, between that and PPP money, we did really well, considering.”

By now, in normal circumstances, the staff at Episcopal Place would have posters and postcards designed and ready to start promoting Gumbo Gala for the next year.

Blanton says the mission’s initial plan was to decide by Dec. 1 if they could host the event in any capacity in 2021. But now, he says Episcopal Place plans to make the decision “hard and fast, based on what they know” on Dec. 31. Even though event organizers are still firming up the final logistics, Blaton says Episocal Place won’t host Gumbo Gala in its “traditional form” next year. And there are a number of reasons why.

“About five or six of our teams come from schools. And we just can’t see how they would gather. And how the teams could get together and do all their cooking a couple days in advance,” said Blanton. “And the restaurants have had such a hard time. We couldn’t see ourselves asking them to help. So, we don’t know. We’re going to see how Giving Tuesday goes, and then we’ll do our end of year letters which are getting ready to roll out next week, and we’ll go from there.”

Blaton says Episcopal Place raised $100,000 through the 2019 Gumbo Gala, a total that amounted to $50,000 after expenses. This year, the mission received about $20,000 in sponsorships. Episcopal Place used that money to cover a number of expenses, including paying for the driver and gas to take residents to medical appointments, pay the mission’s part-time chaplain, and supply the food bank.

While Episcopal Place was fortunate to receive donations this year, he hopes people who have enjoyed attending fundraising social events like Gumbo Gala, crawfish boils, and barbeques over the years will consider donating to the organizations that put on those events, even if its unlikely that the events resume in 2021.

“Just because they are not going to be able to have the table dinner event or the auction, or the Gumbo Gala or the run or the race, just to please give what they have given in the past to get us through to next year. No one is asking for more money than they (received) in previous years,” said Blaton. “Don’t not give just because there’s not going to be a plated dinner or an event or wine auction. Because the need is still there, but we just can’t have the event.”

Miss going out? Consider gifting organizations with donations to help them keep running.


Houses of worship around the state: If you’re a religious observer, consider donating to houses of worship other than your own, such as historic institutions in Alabama including Brown Chapel A.M.E in Selma, which is a civil rights landmark, or Masjid of Al-Islam, the oldest mosque in Mobile.

Urban Ministry (Birmingham): An urban mission of the United Methodist Church, Urban Ministry provides programs including a pay-as-you-can café, a community garden, and home repair services for the residents of West End in Birmingham. |DONATE|

Episcopal Place (Birmingham): The mission of Episcopal Place is to provide low income seniors and disabled adults with safe and affordable housing, as well as access to services such as transportation. |DONATE|

Edmundite Missions (Selma): The Edmundite Missions provides food, clothing, shelter and health services for poverty-stricken people in Selma and other parts of the deep South.


Community Food Banks: Looking for a way to support organizations that work to address food insecurity? Instead of canned and boxed goods, consider giving monetary donations to local food banks. With extra money, food banks can buy additional items such a fresh produce or use the funds to focus on distribution.

Feed the Gulf Coast (Theodore): Feed the Gulf Coast serves over 400 charitable organizations in south Mississippi, south Alabama and the Florida Panhandle to help battle food insecurity. A pipeline organization of No Kid Hungry, the food bank can provide 5 meals for every $1 donated. |DONATE|

Great Grocery Giveback (Birmingham): The mission of the Great Grocery Giveback is to provide a full weeks’ worth of groceries to those who have been furloughed or laid off as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. |DONATE|


Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame/ The Carver Theater of Performing Arts (Birmingham): Founded in 1978, the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame is a 501c3 nonprofit that honors Alabama’s jazz greats through artistic programming and community outreach. |DONATE|

The Firehouse Community Arts Organization: The Firehouse Community Arts Center (“The Firehouse”) will launch a comprehensive music education program and creative learning space in the historic Forest Park/South Avondale neighborhood in February 2021. The Arts Center will employ ten professional musicians from the city of Birmingham who will teach interest-based music lessons to young people ages 9-18. The program also will offer access to fully-equipped practice spaces and, eventually, a recording studio. |DONATE|

Opera Birmingham (Birmingham): Opera Birmingham is a professional opera company in Northern and Central Alabama. |DONATE|

Kentuck Arts Center (Northport): Kentuck Art Center and Festival is a renowned folk art institution dedicated to providing year-round programming. In addition to membership, Kentuck also accepts donations. |DONATE|

Coleman Center for the Arts (York): The Coleman Center for the Arts is a contemporary arts organization that provides arts education, community-based artists’ residencies, and exhibitions of primarily Southern artists. |DONATE|

Gee’s Bend Quilting Collective (Boykin): Nationally renowned, the women of Gee’s Bend, a remote black community in Alabama, transform recycled work clothes, dresses, and other fabric remnants into hundreds of quilt masterpieces. The quilts have been displayed in a number of institutions, including the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. The collective also hosts quilting retreats in the spring and fall. The Gee’s Bend Quilting Collective prefers donations via mail.

Donations should be sent to: Gee’s Bend Quilting Collective, P.O. BOX 68, Boykin, Alabama 36723

Birmingham Museum of Art (Birmingham): As one of the state’s largest art institutions, the Birmingham Museum of Art houses a collection of more than 27,000 paintings, sculpture, prints, drawings, and decorative arts. In addition to membership, the museum also accepts donations to its annual fund. |DONATE|

Arts at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (Birmingham): UAB Arts organizations include AEIVA, the Alys Stephens Center, Arts in Medicine, and ArtPlay. In addition to membership, the organizations also accept donations. |DONATE|

Donations are also accepted in support of student scholarships in the UAB Department of Music, UAB Department of Theatre or UAB Department of Art and Art History.

Birmingham Festival Theater (Birmingham): Started in 1972 by three young thespians, the Birmingham Festival Theater is committed to the development of theatrical talent and original shows. In addition to memberships, the theater also accepts donations.

Birmingham Black Repertory Theatre Company (Birmingham): The Birmingham Black Repertory Theatre Company is a theatric incubator and non-profit whose main goal is to produce bodies of performance art by and for Black people, including staged readings, main-stage & black-box performances, & workshops with industry professionals. |DONATE|

The Magic City Poetry Festival (Birmingham): An annual celebration of spoken word, The Magic City Poetry Festival offers community readings, programming, and performances. |DONATE|


Alabama Indian Affairs Commission (Montgomery): The Alabama Indian Affairs Commission represents more than 38,000 Native American families who are residents of the State of Alabama. The mission of the commission is to recognize the unique cultural and sociological needs of Alabama’s Native American community. The advocacy group promotes the recognition of the right of Native Americans to pursue cultural and religious traditions.

The AIAC accepts donations to its scholarship fund. Direct contributions can be made by check and sent to the AIAC office at 771 S Lawrence St, Montgomery, AL 36104. Contributions can also be made by using the Alabama Tax Check-Off on the Alabama Tax Form AL 40 (The AIAC website says the Alabama Tax Check-off is the most convenient way of assisting the fund).

Alabama Asian Cultures Foundation (Birmingham): The Alabama Asian Cultures Foundation is a nonprofit organization founded to nurture and support Asian artistic and cultural organizations in the metro Birmingham area and throughout the state of Alabama. |DONATE|

Central Alabama Caribbean American Organization (Birmingham): Founded in 2011, the Central Alabama Caribbean American Organization is devoted to creating a space for the Caribbean community to gather and meet in the city of Birmingham and its surrounding areas. The organization also provides scholarships to Caribbean students attending college in Alabama. |DONATE|

Alabama Multicultural Association (Birmingham): The mission of the Alabama Multicultural Organization is to engage people in embracing diversity, inclusion, and cultures through food, music, and the arts. |DONATE|


Birmingham Urban League (Birmingham): The Birmingham Urban League was founded in 1967 as an affiliate of the National Urban League with the mission empowering communities in the city through jobs education, jobs, housing, and health. |DONATE|

Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama: The Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama is a community development and advocacy organization that champions economic equality, civic engagement, and social justice for Latino families around the state. |DONATE|

Urban Impact (Birmingham): Urban Impact Inc. is a community and economic development agency dedicated to the economic opportunity and revitalization of Birmingham’s Historic 4th Avenue Business District and the Civil Rights District. |DONATE|

Black Belt Community Foundation: Founded in 2004, the mission of the Black Belt Community Foundation is to foster a collection of resources to invest in the and grow the 12 regions of the Black Belt through education, the arts, and economic development. |DONATE|

Ensley Alive (Birmingham): Ensley Alive is a community organization devoted to the revitalization of the Ensley neighborhood of Birmingham through initiatives in education, health, and the arts. To donate, contact the group’s organizers.

Africatown~C.H.E.S.S. (Mobile): Africatown~C.H.E.S.S. was developed to implement strategies and improve the quality of life in the Africatown community of Mobile through partnerships with the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice (DSCEJ), the HBCU-CBO Gulf Coast Equity Consortium, and the Kellogg Foundation. |DONATE|


Be a Blessing, Birmingham (Birmingham): Founded in 2013, Be a Blessing is a community organization devoted to assisting the homeless with food, clothing, and sanitary needs. |DONATE|

Firehouse Ministries (Birmingham) Firehouse Ministries is a men’s homeless shelter in downtown. Birmingham. |DONATE|


Journeys for the Soul (Selma): Owned and directed by JoAnne Bland, Journeys for the Soul is a tour agency that conducts civil rights tours with a major focus on Selma, Alabama. The majority of the tour guides are participants of the Voting Rights movement. Journeys for the Soul accepts donations for the McRae-Gaines Learning Center. |DONATE|

Jefferson County Memorial Project (Birmingham): The Jefferson County Memorial Project is a grassroots coalition devoted to researching and examining the history of lynching and racial terror in Alabama. |DONATE|

The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (Birmingham): The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is a cultural and educational research center devoted to education and the understanding of the civil rights movement. |DONATE|


The Knights & Orchids Inc. (Selma): The TKO Society is a justice and equality group for the Black Queer and Trans community across the state and the South, with special emphasis on rural areas. TKO Society programming provides education, leadership development, and cultural work. |DONATE|

The Dannon Project (Birmingham): Founded in 1999, The Dannon Project is a non-profit social services agency devoted to reducing prison reentry. |DONATE|

Magic City Acceptance Center (Birmingham): The mission of the Magic City Acceptance Center is to provide a supportive and affirming space to LGBTQ people and their allies in Birmingham through educational and health programming as well as the arts. |DONATE|

No More Martyrs (Birmingham): No More Martyrs is a mental health awareness campaign committed to building a community of support for Black women with mental health concerns. |DONATE|

Bham Free Store (Birmingham): The Birmingham Free Store is a community project that provides products– including produce, clothing, and contraceptive needs– to patrons free of charge.

The store accepts donations through Venmo (@bhamfreestore), Cash App ($bhamfreestore) and Patreon.

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