Friends of Sinners not allowing pandemic to affect mission

OWENSBORO, Ky. (AP) — Joe Welsh, Friends of Sinners director, is refusing to allow the COVID-19 pandemic to affect the organization’s mission of seeing lives turned around for the better.

But as with many nonprofits that have been hit hard by the outbreak, Friends of Sinners has been forced to cancel fundraising events because of the social distancing requirements.

Even its fundraiser — “Gideon’s 300: Less is More Project” — that didn’t require a public gathering only brought in half of the $30,000 goal.

The fundraiser, which generated $41,000 in 2018 and $35,000 in 2019, relies on at least 300 people donating $100 via mail or through the nonprofit’s website — www.friendofsinner.org — from March 1 through May 1.

“I definitely think you could correlate this to the coronavirus,” Welsh said. “We did pretty much the same marketing tactics and fundraising tactics as we’ve done the past two years. It was just the worst time because we basically started at the same time as the corona. We had a few good weeks and it just kind of stopped after that.”

Friends of Sinners consists of faith-based treatment centers for 35 men and 15 women who are recovering from drug and alcohol addictions, and are there as an alternative to incarceration.

And for about two months, the program didn’t accept any new clients. But in the last three to four weeks, it has begun opening up to new clients.

Welsh said the facilities are now full but some services and classes previously offered had to be reduced.

“We’re not having any teachers or volunteers coming on site,” Welsh said. “So my staff and I are still doing some classes and still working with our guys. But things are really different and the guys aren’t getting to experience the full program.”

With an annual budget of $400,000, donations that Friends of Sinners receive help pay for staffing, programming and other operational costs.

Friends of Sinners was approved for a forgivable $55,000 loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Paycheck Protection (PPP) Program.

The SBA will forgive the PPP loans if all employee retention criteria are met, and the funds are used for eligible expenses.

Welsh said the PPP loan paid 12 weeks of his employee salaries.

“The PPP loan is what has allowed us to be in a good place,” Welsh said. “Without that, we would be behind. That’s been a lifesaver for us.”

Along with the “Gideon’s 300: Less is More Project,” Friends of Sinners usually hosts other fundraisers such as a golf scramble and a community event called “Unchained,” which is held at Chautauqua Park.

Welsh said both of those fundraisers — even being outdoors — had to be canceled because of the coronavirus outbreak.

“Those things are concerning to me as far as fundraising goes,” Welsh said.

Welsh, however, is holding onto hope for its fall banquet — the nonprofit’s signature fundraiser — that not only helps generate revenue but it also allows the public to hear from Friends of Sinners’ clients and how they’ve benefited from the program.

“We need that money to end the year,” said Welsh about the banquet. “It’s one of those things that in the next month or two that I’m going to have to make a decision — either have the banquet like we normally do or figure out an alternative.”

And with no definite end in sight for the pandemic, Welsh said the challenge will be coming up with new ways to generate revenue.

“We’re going to have to figure out how to fundraise with the coronavirus going forward,” Welsh said. “If it is around for the rest of the year and next year … what that looks like is a lot of fundraising without events. And events are usually the biggest fundraisers that any organization has.”