Guidelines imposed because of COVID-19 have altered how people work, socialize and participate in recreational activities. Stay home orders, social distancing and restrictions on group gatherings have also changed how people engage in service organizations and volunteer activities. This is the first story in series for the Hermiston Herald that will highlight how area service clubs and groups have responded to the pandemic.

As summer winds down each year, members of Altrusa International of Hermiston are typically gearing up for their annual fundraiser. However, the novel coronavirus has disrupted normal plans and the group was forced to cancel this year’s Altrusa Auction.

According to club president Stephanie Hughes, Altrusa is an international nonprofit organization that strives to make local communities better through leadership, partnership and service. The Hermiston club, she said, offers an opportunity to make a real difference in Hermiston and the smaller neighboring towns of Echo, Irrigon, Stanfield and Umatilla.

“We undertake a variety of service, literacy, fundraising and international projects each year,” Hughes said.

Altrusans have appreciated the generosity of the community for the past four decades, as their annual auction event raises money to support a variety of projects throughout the year. The club has provided support to such organizations as the Hermiston Warming Station, Made to Thrive and the American Red Cross, as well as encouraging reading through its Little Red Library project, assisting middle school girls as they transition to high school during their Girls Night In program, and providing scholarships for area residents seeking higher education.

With the auction serving as the club’s only annual fundraiser, Altrusans are tapping into creative ways to raise money and continue to help meet needs in the community. Finding ways to do that in the current situation, Hughes said, is a bit difficult — but not impossible.

“We are a hands-on volunteer project organization,” she said. “Being out in the public and helping with what is needed has been something we strive for and always look forward to.”

Club members, Hughes said, are looking at different forms of fundraising. In addition to recently establishing a BottleDrop account, they are learning how to write grants and are looking into a “Donate Now” button on their Facebook page.

Hughes expressed appreciation to individuals and businesses who have already responded by making donations. As a nonprofit organization, she reminds people that financial gifts are tax deductible.

“At our auctions in the past, we have had amazing donors of items as well as participants in the bidding and purchasing,” Hughes said. “We are hopeful that some of those folks and others will be able to donate funds, or items when we do drives for the community.”

The international service organization celebrated its centennial in 2017. The Hermiston club was organized May 14, 1977, and currently has 35 members living locally.

As a result of the pandemic, the general membership has been meeting virtually. However, Hughes said many of the committees are small enough to utilize social distancing and meet in person.

“We have a committee that is focused on membership engagement and celebrations,” she said. “They figured out how to honor our birthdays and anniversaries with special no contact delivery. So, we are trying to do what we can.”

Club members represent varying occupations and lifestyles, Hughes said. Each member possesses a shared interest in community service and enjoys the friendship, fun and satisfaction that comes from working together for the benefit of others.

“We are always seeking new volunteers to join our organization and make a difference,” Hughes said. “We are looking for projects and new members to help us overcome and grow.”

On the horizon, the club is looking at helping with a room at Martha’s House. In addition, they will continue to keep books in the little libraries, award scholarships and provide help where they are able.

In celebration of Altrusa’s Make a Difference Day — Saturday, Oct. 24 — club members will be on hand at Little Red Library sites from 1-2 p.m. at Belt Park, Sunset Park and Greenwood Park, all in Hermiston. The public is invited to enjoy ice cream bars, receive free books and learn more about Altrusa.

For more information, email hermistonaltrusa@gmail.com, call Hughes at 541-720-9769 or visit www.facebook.com/AltrusaInternationalOfHermiston. A Zoom link is available for virtual meetings, which are the first and third Thursday of each month at noon. Donations can be sent to: Altrusa International of Hermiston, P.O. Box 794, Hermiston, OR 97838.

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