Ursula Mendez and her daughter Olivia dress in frontier apparel for the Johnny Appleseed Festival. They worked at the Homestead Spartan Alliance Marching Band chicken-and-dumplings tent in 2019.

School programs, churches and charitable organizations will have to find new ways to fill considerable holes in their funding following the cancellation of this year’s Johnny Appleseed Festival, which serves as the largest annual fundraiser for many local nonprofits.

The festival’s board of directors announced July 10 it had decided to cancel the 45th annual Johnny Appleseed Festival to protect volunteers, vendors, partners and the community from any potential spread of COVID-19.

For Homestead High School’s band boosters, the cancellation means finding an alternative means of raising the roughly $60,000-$70,000 it makes for the school’s marching band by selling chicken and dumplings each fall. That money goes toward “bussing, uniform and instrument care, staffing, a whole list of things,” Bryen Warfield, Homestead’s director of bands and orchestra, said.

“There are a few other potential fundraisers that we may look into in the spring semester to try and offset some costs but also to add to what we’ll eventually end up doing every school year. We’re not completely in the dark — we’ve still got some options.”

Fortunately for fans of the crowd-pleasing chicken and dumplings, Homestead’s staff is looking at the possibility of selling it at a different location this year. The band boosters will announce any plans through social media.

“If that goes well, some of the things that we planned to do throughout the year we can still do maybe later, or we might have to make some adjustments to them,” Warfield said.

Several other school music programs rely on funds raised at Johnny Appleseed, including Concordia Lutheran High School, Northrop High School and Carroll High School.

Concordia’s JROTC also raises money through event cleanup and selling root beer floats, onion stacks and other food items. Major John Sheaffer, the program’s senior Army instructor, said the roughly $15,000 the JROTC raises at the festival each year helps pay for several activities throughout the school year, including robotics, drill, marksmanship and a high school version of American Ninja Warrior, as well as annual trips to battle sites around the country.

“All that stuff takes money, so with Appleseed being canceled we’re going to have to kind of rethink this upcoming school year,” Sheaffer said. “Not being able to pull in that money will probably make things a little bit more difficult to try to do some of the quality of things that we do for the kids.”

Concordia’s JROTC only hosts one other fundraiser each year, but the money from that event is donated to Honor Flight Northeast Indiana and Shepherd’s House transitional living center in Fort Wayne. Sheaffer said he wasn’t very surprised by the Johnny Appleseed Festival’s cancellation, and he’s trying to remain optimistic. The JROTC staff and school administration plan to seek alternative fundraising opportunities to ensure parents don’t have to pick up the cost.

“We try to make sure all the kids are able to participate in all the different activities we offer,” Sheaffer said. “We want to make sure a financial burden isn’t why a kid isn’t able to do something.”

Roughly seven area churches raise funds through food booths at the Johnny Appleseed Festival. Other nonprofit groups like the Fort Wayne Area PTA Council, local Boy Scout groups, Fort Wayne Kiwanis Club and Allen County Council of Veterans rely on the event to fund their own activities or funnel that money back into the community.

Six Lions Clubs from around the city operate food and craft booths, and all the money they raise is donated.

One of those groups, the Anthony Wayne Lions, raises about $5,000 each year through sales of barbecue pork tenderloin sandwiches and other food items.

“The Johnny Appleseed Festival is our biggest fundraiser, and without it we’re going to be reducing our help in the local community as far the Salvation Army, League for the Blind (and Disabled) — the types of things we normally support every year,” Lion Dennis Noak, who’s been involved with the festival since the ‘70s, said.

Some of the money the Anthony Wayne Lions raise goes toward state-level projects as well, such as the Leader Dogs for the Blind and cancer research efforts.

“We’ve just got to change our plans and our thoughts for this coming year, and hopefully this next season the Johnny Appleseed Festival will go on and be bigger and better,” Noak said.

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