Flamingo Flocking Fundraiser celebrates September Pride

Many plastic flamingos sit in the lawn of a local home. The flamingo flock is a traveling fundraising event the McKinley Foundation is putting on for Pride Month.

Photo Courtesy of McKinley Foundation

Many plastic flamingos sit in the lawn of a local home. The flamingo flock is a traveling fundraising event the McKinley Foundation is putting on for Pride Month.

By Nandika Chatterjee, Staff Writer

With Champaign-Urbana celebrating Pride month in September, the McKinley Foundation hosted its Flamingo Flocking Fundraiser to celebrate LGBTQ pride. This month-long fundraiser was open to diverse communities of enthusiastic individuals ready to get involved and have fun in with their community.

The McKinley Foundation has long hosted and housed enjoyable, socially-conscious events. Exciting events attract college students and C-U residents alike, creating an interconnected community.

Jane Cain, a recent member of the development committee,  has been a member of the foundation and McKinley Church since she joined the area as a student in 1966. It has been a major part of her life and family for over 50 years. She expressed the degree to which McKinley is ingrained in C-U life.

“For more than 100 years,  McKinley has been at the forefront of social justice in areas like racial justice, hunger and homeless needs, LGBTQ issues, immigration reform, student support, environmental issues, peacemaking and more,” Cain said.

The wide range of projects and programs also provide unique opportunities for students at the University. Memorable experiences like sending digital greeting cards to pediatric patients at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, volunteering in the Giving Garden and Christmas cookie decorating are just a few examples of their events.

Paula Hancock, an executive director of the McKinley Foundation, reflected on some of her favorite events.

“I really love the work we do in the Giving Garden to grow organic produce for patrons of our food pantry located at the Garden Hills Elementary School,” Hancock said.

Both of these programs attract a lot of student volunteers from across campus and don’t require any kind of certification or long term commitment. No special gardening skills are needed either, just a willingness to get your hands dirty.

The Flamingo Flocking Fundraiser is one of their newer initiatives. Traditionally, Hancock explained, they would be doing their pancake fundraiser this time of the year. Due to the pandemic, the Flamingo Flocking Fundraiser became a new avenue to generate enthusiastic giving.

“I love the flamingo fundraiser!” Hancock said. “A staff member who has teenagers had experienced a flamingo fundraiser before and suggested it. All of the flamingos’ sport rainbow Hawaiian leis and face masks, and there are yard signs surrounding them that say ‘Pride’ or ‘Love is Love.’”

Cindy Shepherd is the Central Illinois Outreach Director at the non-profit Faith in Place and coach of McKinley’s award-winning ‘Green Team,’ as well as the current Vice-president of McKinley’s Board of Directors.

“I love a good, tacky lawn decoration! I like that it raises the visibility of an LGBTQ Welcoming church group, with a sense of humor.  It’s fun to ‘install’ a flock and make people smile while asking for their support,” Shepherd said.

Even though circumstances have changed because of COVID-19, the spirit of the foundation remains strong. In fact, Hancock was pleased to report that the pandemic could not hinder their plans.

“For those who are cooped up at home (no pun intended), I think it’s been seen as a wonderful surprise to wake up and find a flock of brightly colored flamingos in their front yard. For those with kids at home or who have kids as neighbors, that pleasure is even greater,” Hancock said. “ I know our flamingo ‘wranglers’ are having a blast. Every three days, they go to a home or business, pick up the flock, and deliver it to a new destination. One of our wrangler (Jane Cain) sometimes brings her grandchildren along, and they really love it too.”

Cain said that she, her husband and their two grandchildren have been “flocking” homes all month.

“We have left the flock of 8 birds in their bright garb secretly at some houses, were caught by some people where we had great conversations about the Foundation and were even scolded by one of our best friends who did not recognize us in our masks early in the morning on their lawn,” Cain said.

Along with fun and games, the true meaning of the fundraiser is never lost. It is important for people to recognize the value of supporting one another. Sometimes just showing support can make a world of difference in a person’s world.

“I think people needed a little spot of joy in their lives during these stressful times,” Hancock said. “It may seem trivial to some, but especially for some of the McKinley church members who are elderly or confined to their home, it was a safe way to reach out and let them know we are thinking about them. During these uncertain times, so many people are doing amazing work in the community and we want to celebrate and support them.”

“Flamingos look great in rainbow boas,” Cain said.

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