Bowl a strike, get lei’d, win a raffle prize, and help provide food and medicine to a person living with chronic illness.
That’s the idea behind the Poverello Center’s “Bowling to Fight Hunger” fundraiser for 28 years running. This year the center’s longest-running charity event returns Sept. 8 to Sawgrass Lanes for a Luau-themed bowl-a-thon.
The goal is to raise $125,000 to help approximately 3,500 people who live with chronic illness to afford nutritious groceries provided by the non-profit food pantry. In nearly three decades, the annual bowl-a-thon has raised $2 million.
Kevin Clevenger, an event coordinator with Poverello, has more than doubled the fundraising goal for the event in his three years with the organization. Clevenger said he’s brought in more sponsors and tried to make it more family-friendly now that Poverello has expanded to treat people with cancer, diabetes and kidney and heart conditions after being HIV-focused. Radio stations including iHeart Radio and 97.3 are sponsoring this year’s event, while Miss Bryan from the DJ Laz Morning Show will be the emcee.
Clevenger’s decision to make every event a food drive means bowlers will receive one raffle ticket for every bag of food donated by bowl-a-thon participants.
It takes $2 for donors to provide a complete meal for anyone participating in Poverello’s health and nutrition program, according to Clevenger.
“I’ve got everything that I need and some of the things that I want,” said Johnny Wolfe, a Poverello worker and program participant who lives with HIV.
As a participant, Wolfe is provided about 17-29 meals, or roughly one week’s worth of food, every time he is eligible to pick up food at Poverello. Participants can visit the food pantry to collect groceries once a month and also pay for an approximately $30 voucher to collect twice a month.
The lush produce and fresh bread loaves in the pantry come from neighborhood markets including Lucky’s, Mr. Green’s and Publix. Wolfe also enjoys access to a LiveWell center, which includes a salon outfitted by Dick’s Service Station through donations, acupuncture treatments, massage services, a meditation room and a gym among other amenities.
Wolfe expects Poverello to reach or exceed its $125,000 fundraising goal for this year’s Bowling to Fight Hunger bowl-a-thon.
“You go as a hunger fighter, you throw a ball on any lane any old time you feel like it,” Wolfe said.
In its 28 years, the Bowling to Fight Hunger event has outgrown the 22-lane Manor Lanes in Wilton Manors and now fills the 56-lane Tamarac alley in Tamarac.
“We usually sell out each year,” Clevenger said.
Peter Quinlan, an employee of Sawgrass Lanes who’s been bowling for 32 years, has worked the event in the past and said he left feeling different than he did after a regular shift at the alley.
“It makes me feel a little better ‘cause I got to see more smiling on faces. People having more fun,” Quinlan said. “Bowling is a way to get people together. It’s fun.”
Quinlan calls bowling “a big family” as he wipes his ball down with a pride flag towel from the 37th Annual International Gay Bowling Organization’s Annual Tournament and Conference.
“It’s important to always help people out. You never know what someone is going through.”
Professional Bowlers Association players have participated in the bowl-a-thon, which is one of several hosted by Sawgrass Lanes, according to Quinlan. The I.G.B.O. also hosts recurring five-person team fundraisers at Sawgrass Lanes known as the Fort Lauderdale Invitational Regional Tournament, or F.L.I.R.T.
Donald Reilly, a Sales Manager at Embassy Suites by Hilton Fort Lauderdale 17th Street, is leading this year’s fundraising effort among individual bowlers and teams, representing the Greater Fort Lauderdale LGBT Chamber of Commerce, with almost $2,000 raised as of publication time.
“Best organization helping those in need,” Reilly wrote in his Facebook review of the 2017 event. The feeling is mutual, according to Clevenger.
“Their team has been the #1 for the past couple of years and they’re a really great group of people, especially Mr. Reilly. He’s great to work with,” Clevenger said.
Jacob Guevara, the Operations Manager at Sawgrass Lanes, feels the alley makes a difference by hosting such fundraisers.
“You can have a good time raising money, rather than being outside, walking and running and stuff like that for a walkathon,” Guevara said. “That’s why we do stuff like this — whatever we can do for the community, we’re here for them.”
IF YOU GO:
When: Sept. 8, 2018
12 p.m. to register
1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Where: Sawgrass Lanes
8501 N University Drive
Tamarac, FL 33321