(originally published in the Gabber weekly newspaper on February 1, 2017)

As a recipient of the annual Gulfport Merchants Association (GMA) Community Support Grants, the Sonia Plotnick Health Fund is “so grateful,” said Karen Lyndel, chairperson of the local non-profit that provides assistance for women’s health and medical needs not covered by insurance.

The association monies will be awarded after their annual summer and early fall Gecko Events in Gulfport. The other 2017 recipient of a GMA grant is the Creative Play Preschool, which plans to create an Edible School Yard program designed as an “interactive outdoor learning lab and mini food forest,” according to the GMA.

“Several other worthy organizations applied for grants and the decision-making process was difficult,” said Daniel Hodge, GMA vice president. The two 2017 grants were announced December 14, 2016.

For 2017, in addition to the GMA grant, the Sonia Plotnick Health Fund has received $10,000 from the Metro Health, Wellness & Community Centers non-profit organization in St. Petersburg.

Metro has been a sponsor for us and this year, they really increased their donation,” said Lyndel. Metro Health helps to sponsor the fund’s main annual fundraising event, the Lady in Red Ball “Valentine’s Day” dance for women.
For the fund’s 21st annual dance, there were only four tickets left at Domain as of Wednesday morning, February 1. Tickets will not be sold at the door. This year, the dance will be Saturday, February 11 from 8 p.m. to midnight at the Gulfport Casino. In addition to DJ music, a silent auction, free dessert bar and cash drink bar are also available.

At the dance, “400 to 450 women, and the men who support us, have a great fun evening,” said Lyndel. “We usually net, after we pay our expenses, $7,000 to $9,000 depending on the year.”

The fund has been dramatically increasing its annual revenues between 2013-2015, which were near $20,000 in 2012. In 2015, the fund raised a total of $41,679. It serves a five-county area in greater Tampa Bay and is led by a seven-member board of directors, six of whom live in Gulfport including Phyllis Plotnick who is the daughter of the fund’s namesake.

The fund’s methods for raising money are now “more sophisticated and more and more people are involved,” said Lyndel. “We’re spreading the word. Every time we build that up with community outreach, we multiply that every year with more people learning about who we are and what we do.”

In the past, the fund has received a $20,000 matching grant from a private anonymous donor in Sarasota as a way that she helped to celebrate her 70th birthday, said Lyndel. Recently, one benefactor did the paperwork to include the fund in her will.

In addition to private donations, the fund also receives monies from business sponsorships. For instance, businesses have contributed nearly 100 items of merchandise and gift cards for silent auction baskets at the dance, said Lyndel.

“We’re in a growth phase,” said Lyndel. “We’re going to be expanding our board and volunteer opportunities. “Frankly, it’s hard for non-profits just to ask directly for a private or personal donation from family, friends, businesses or organizations.”

In 2017, the fund is focusing on seeking additional grants and contacting foundations that might give to their effort. The non-profit is also asking itself, “Who are our good community partners? How can we be a good partner to them? And, what can we do to do fundraising together?” she said. “We are really looking to fund a needs analysis for woman and our financial needs. We don’t want to duplicate services with what everybody else is already doing out there. Our niche is to be able to raise money and be able to give it back to women who really find themselves in crisis.”

To locate women in financial need, the fund gets “a lot of referrals from the American Cancer Society,” said Lyndel. “There’s women who are dealing with breast, ovarian and uterine cancers and other forms of cancer or reoccurrences. They are going through chemo and radiation. And, if they have survived, we have people coming back just to get help with co-pays for the mammograms.”

For more information about the fund or to directly apply for assistance anonymously, visit soniaplotnickhealthfund.org.