There’s been plenty written about the devastating impact of COVID-19 on local retail businesses, entertainment venues, restaurants and bars, but less attention has been given to charities, whose traditional fundraising events were thrown aside in 2020.

For organizations like the Riverside Junior Woman’s Charity, which donates thousands of dollars annually to about a dozen local groups, it’s meant reinventing the way they raise funds to support those causes.

The loss of this year’s Holiday Stroll, the Chamber of Commerce event that draws hundreds to Riverside’s downtown, was a real blow to the Juniors.

“We usually raise $1,000 before the Holiday Stroll and then about $2,000 the night of it,” said Carey Kogol, vice president of fundraising for the Juniors.

To make up for the loss of the Holiday Stroll, the Juniors have initiated an online holiday season fundraising drive called Riverside Gives, and in partnership with a couple of local business owners the effort has made some headway.

“It’s possible to be creative, even in the time of COVID, to find ways we can give back to nonprofits,” Kogol said.

You can donate by visiting the Riverside Gives website. The Juniors have chosen 12 organizations they’ll be donating money to next year when the charity’s fundraising efforts are completed.

Apart from the Juniors themselves, the groups include local organizations Riverside Township Food Pantry, Riverside Public Library and Riverside Girl Scouts; girls/women’s organizations Sarah’s Inn, which serves victims of domestic violence, and Reclaim 13, devoted to combatting child sexual exploitation; mental health organizations Buddy’s House, a bereavement program for children and adults, and Still Missed, which serves parents who have lost a newborn; and veterans’ groups Hines V.A. Hospital and Fisher House, which provides family members a place to stay while a loved one is hospitalized.

The Juniors have set an overall goal of $20,000 to distribute among the chosen beneficiaries, but the holiday fundraiser is typically the group’s largest single push.

The goal for this fundraiser is $2,500, and hitting that number is especially important because Brian Plain, a Riverside resident and financial planner, has pledged to match that amount if the Juniors hit their goal by Dec. 31.

“When I saw Riverside Gives I thought [a match] would be a great way to increase the impact of giving back,” said Plain, who has been a Juniors sponsor for the past couple of years. “It gets people to dig a little deeper and do good in a year where a whole lot of people are struggling.”

Plain reached out to Scott Zimmer, the owner of The Chew Chew and Sawmilly Sandwich Shoppe in downtown Riverside, to see if he would assist by allowing the Juniors to display the fundraiser’s “giving hearts” – which include the name of the person or group making the donation and the organizations it the donation will benefit – in the windows of his restaurants.

Zimmer agreed to do that and the front window at Sawmilly is already filling up with giving hearts. Donors can choose which nonprofits to direct their dollars (along with the match).

The fundraiser has gotten some good traction, with almost $2,400 raised as of late last week. The fundraising won’t stop on Dec. 31, said Kogol.

“We’ll continue to fundraise through May when we will distribute all the funds,” she said.