January 20, 2021

Giving back in a year where donations are down

Winners of a United Way raffle return their cash prize to nonprofit

Rather than keeping the $500 cash prize that was earned from a United Way of Jasper County raffle last month, the winning pair — who also own and operate a local business — decided to donate the money back to the nonprofit organization hosting the event.

Lee and Jennifer Barnett, of McCall Monument in Newton, returned the cash without a second thought. Prior to the event taking place, the Barnetts told themselves if they would win the big prize in the United Way raffle that they would give it back.

“We thought that’d be a fun thing to do to that organization during this time of year,” Lee Barnett said. “Knowing Jessica (Lowe Vokes) and the organization and the good things that they do and they hardships that so many people have, you know, it’s fun to win $500 but they put it to a lot better cause.”

McCall Monument, a full service memorial center, regularly supports United Way’s fundraisers. The business, which originated in Oskaloosa, has served Jasper County since 1983 and has been operating from its Iowa Highway 14 storefront since 2003. Lee Barnett said this year has been tough for nonprofits.

“Things are so mixed up and a lot of people’s funds are short. Everything’s mixed up because the virus and the shutdowns,” Lee said before complimenting the United Way for its tenacity in 2020. “… But (Jessica Lowe Vokes) is doing a great job. Hope we get back to normal.”

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the UWJC Executive Director Jessica Lowe Vokes had to come up with a different way to organize an event to raise money. Lowe Vokes said the nonprofit held a raffle fundraiser to replace the annual autograph auction. Names were drawn every day.

“If you bought a ticket, you’re in until you win,” Lowe Vokes said. “And then if you bought more than one ticket, you could win more than one prize. It was a really, really good fundraiser for us. We gave away things like diamond earrings and a Blackstone grill and a YETI cooler.”

More than $3,500 in prizes were given away.

When Lee and Jennifer Barnett won the $500 cash prize near the end of the raffle and then swiftly returned the money, Lowe Vokes was shocked.

“It was just a wonderful thing for them to do,” Lowe Vokes said. “… I wasn’t expecting that. For them to turn around and bless the United Way with the money and just help us reach a higher goal with our fundraiser was pretty awesome.”

Money raised from the raffle tickets goes toward the United Way’s general campaign. This past fall has been difficult for the nonprofit. Lowe Vokes said people have less to give this year because of the economic struggles following both the pandemic and the derecho.

“We’ve seen a decrease in giving, so this fundraiser was really, really important for us to kind of help cushion some of the loss,” she said. “The money raised from the raffle goes to our campaign fund, which we will then turn around and do allocations starting in February.”

Which will then service health and human services programs in Jasper County.

Lowe Vokes wouldn’t have minded if the Barnetts kept their prize, especially considering the holiday season was approaching. To see the couple reinvest it into the United Way touched Lowe Vokes’ heart.

“I think people want to help,” Lowe Vokes said. “For the Barnetts, they helped by buying tickets, but they thought they could take it to the next level and help by giving that money back to the United Way … It was very sweet of them. Every little bit helps right now for nonprofits.”

Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or cbraunschweig@newtondailynews.com