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Charities face COVID-19 challenges

It wasn’t exactly the finish line Ali Riecke had in mind.

The 27-year-old had envisioned something more tropical when she signed up to participate in her second “Run Across Haiti,” an ambitious eight-day, 200-mile tour of the impoverished Caribbean nation sponsored by the nonprofit organization WORK.

Instead of celebrating with more than 30 others from across North America who raised north of $200,000 to make the journey to run and to get a first-hand look at WORK’s mission, the end for Riecke came as she neared her house in decidedly non-tropical Bellingham, Washington, on May 13.

Her boyfriend blasted an air horn as she hit the wire, her run over. Then she joined a Google Hangout so other members of the far-flung group could join in the party after the trip to Haiti was called off due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was definitely bittersweet,” said Rieke, who stressed it was still “very special in its own way.”

And maybe a new normal. There are other complications for nonprofits and charities beyond stay-at-home orders and travel issues. For organizations that rely on participatory recreation events like the “Run Across Haiti” or the 5K at your local park, the concern is two-fold: How do you safely conduct these events in the era of social distancing? And how do you go about seeking money for a cause, any cause, when millions are out of work and people are literally dying by the thousands?

Riecke has collected more than $4,000 this spring to help WORK, which is focused on helping Haitian families emerge from poverty in a sustainable way. That effort that isn’t going away anytime soon regardless, virus or no virus. It is something Riecke, a business intelligence developer at a local credit union, tried to keep in mind as she went through the admittedly uncomfortable task of soliciting contributions.

“It’s harder for those people to give obviously but it also feels harder to ask,” she said.

Charitable giving by individuals has dipped in recent years even during a boom economy thanks in part to a change in the tax code. While the stimulus package Congress passed in March created a $300 tax break for charitable giving, nonprofits of all sizes are anticipating a hit at the same time the need for aid is becoming greater than ever.

“I keep thinking of ‘Rocky,’ where he takes the hits and keeps moving forward,” said James Kane, a senior manager of community development for the American Cancer Society’s Northeast Region. “Some days it’s going to be a step forward and two steps backward (but) at the end of the day the work we do hasn’t become less important. Our mission hasn’t stopped because cancer hasn’t stopped.”

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