Brightening spirits (and sidewalks): Troop devises pandemic-proof fundraiser

When things seem dark, Scouts create their own light.

With its twice-yearly barbecue chicken fundraiser put on ice during the pandemic, Troop 758 of the Baltimore Area Council dreamed up a brilliant way to raise funds while bringing some much-needed joy to its community.

They called it “Light Up Crofton” — an ambitious effort to sell luminary kits to the citizens of their town west of Annapolis, Md. In a year that has been incredibly challenging for unit-level fundraising, the effort raised $14,500 to support Troop 758’s Scouting adventures.

Each $12 kit contained 10 bags, 10 votive candles, sand and instructions for creating 10 luminaries. Troop 758 asked each family that purchased a kit to light their luminaries on the evening of Dec. 13, filling the neighborhood with a glow that turned Crofton into a winter village. As virus cases continue to rise nationwide, this was a holiday display that everyone could enjoy from the safety of their cars.

“This was such a beautiful idea!” one commenter wrote on the Facebook page for the fundraiser. “Thank you Troop 758 for brightening all our lives tonight!”

In yet another reminder that neighboring troops are partners, not rivals, we actually heard about this awesome fundraiser from Cheryl Jackson, who calls herself a “proud Eagle Scout mom from another troop in town.”

“Their communications were so organized and professional,” Jackson says. “Troop 758 is spreading much cheer in our town.”

So how did Troop 758 raise spirits while raising money to support local Scouting? We talked with Kate Schaeffer, the event’s mastermind, to learn more.

The pandemic pivot: How it all started

In what feels like decades ago but was actually the summer of 2019, Schaeffer and another troop mom were brainstorming fundraising ideas.

“Turns out that growing up, both of our neighborhoods lit luminaries on Christmas Eve, and we loved them,” Schaeffer says. “We first talked to the troop committee about the idea but didn’t move forward at the time.”

Fast forward to 2020 and its many challenges, including the necessary cancellation of Troop 758’s barbecue chicken fundraiser. With some of the troop’s larger adventures postponed, the troop was spending less money but still wanted to put its Scouts in a positive post-pandemic position.

“So we returned to the idea of luminaries,” Schaeffer says. “It seemed like the perfect way to unify our neighborhoods with some cheer and beauty, while also raising some funds.”

Sparking joy: More than a fundraiser

Schaeffer says it was important to her fellow volunteers that “Light Up Crofton” be considered a community event — not merely a troop fundraiser.

By doing so, she says, “many other local organizations were willing to share and spread the information — such as the chamber of commerce, community civic associations, homeowners associations, retailers and more.”

“Our goal with ‘Light Up Crofton’ was to bring our community together and start a new holiday tradition,” Schaeffer says. “We encouraged people to drive around and enjoy, even if they didn’t purchase luminary kits.”

In the end, the event had one more benefit: recruiting.

“Light Up Crofton generated buzz for the troop and may encourage more local Cub Scouts to join Troop 758,” she says.

The glow up: How they did it

Step 1: Communication and promotion

  • Troop 758 distributed flyers to homes and at the farmers market in town. “Handing out flyers to homes was key,” Schaeffer says. “Every time a Scout handed out flyers, there was direct and immediate spike in orders in that area.”
  • Troop 758 created a Facebook event with a link to an online Google form for ordering.
  • The troop contacted local news outlets and requested they add “Light Up Crofton” to their event calendars.

Step 2: Sales

  • The troop accepted orders by mail (via paper form) and online (via Google form). The final split was 85% online, 15% paper.
  • Payment was accepted by cash, check or PayPal. About 66% used PayPal, while the rest used cash or check.

Step 3: Kit assembly

  • Troop 758 designed a label for the kit boxes, as well as an instruction sheet.
  • An adult rented a U-Haul pickup truck to pick up the loose sand.
  • The troop hosted socially distanced kit-making sessions in the Schaeffers’ yard. They also allowed troop families to pick up materials and create kits at home.
  • Schaeffer and other leaders tracked the amount of supplies and the number of orders to ensure they had enough materials to fill all orders.

Step 4: Pickup and delivery
Customers had two options for receiving their luminary kits: free pickup or $3 delivery.

  • Schaeffer divided the deliveries by neighborhood areas and assigned parent drivers.
  • Parents picked up and delivered kits with their Scouts.
  • People who opted for pickup were given six different time slots to pick up their kit.
  • People were encouraged to post photos and use the hashtag #LightUpCrofton.

By the numbers: Adding up the impact

  • More than 500 households participated
  • More than $14,500 was raised for the troop
  • 1,286 luminary kits were sold, which equates to 12,860 candles, 12,860 bags and 6,430 pounds of sand
  • The troop charged $12 for the first kit and $10 for each additional. They offered delivery for $3 extra. If someone ordered five or more kits, delivery was free.
  • 20 Scouts and 29 adults (including four recent Eagle Scouts who are still assistant Scoutmasters with the troop) participated

While Schaeffer spearheaded the idea and worked behind the scenes to make it happen, the Scouts were heavily involved. They promoted the community event, handed out flyers around their neighborhoods, shoveled sand into bags, assembled kits and delivered kits.

Magical memories: What they learned

Schaeffer says the troop plans to do this again next year — and be even more prepared for the overwhelming response.

“This definitely requires a chair who excels at planning and coordinating,” she says. “This is not a fast and easy rollout in the first year. You need to have detailed record-keeping to make sure all promised kits are assembled and delivered.”

In the end, Schaeffer says it was all worth it — even if the troop had merely broken even instead of raising those much-needed funds.

The Facebook comments speak for themselves.

“I’m so excited that the troop did this,” one commenter wrote. “Talk about a great lesson in pivoting when life hands you lemons — and takes away your barbecue chicken sales!”

Additional resources

Troop 758’s Schaeffer shared these documents that might help other troops plan something similar:

Must read: Luminary safety tips

Thinking of planning your own luminary fundraiser event? Make sure you do it safely.

As any Scout who has earned the Firem’n Chit can tell you, fires should be attended to at all times. For this reason, you might choose to use glow sticks or LED lights designed to look like candles.

If you do choose regular candles, you should include safety tips in your luminary kits. Here are some to get you started:

  • Monitor the luminaries at all times.
  • Postpone the lighting of luminaries in high winds, and extinguish immediately if winds pick up.
  • Place the luminary bag on a nonflammable surface (such as pavement) and far from any combustible materials.
  • Do not let children or pets play around or light luminaries.
  • At the end of the night, make sure the luminary candle is cold out. Even if the bag is no longer glowing, it may still be lit.

For more resources about holiday candle safety, go here.

About Bryan Wendell 3282 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.