By DAVID GUNTER
SANDPOINT – There are organizations, when it comes time to buckle down and get a job done, that put on a solemn face and dig in. The Angels Over Sandpoint is not one of those organizations.
Don’t misunderstand — these community volunteers know when and how to be serious, it’s just that the work they do is, for the most part, fueled by a capacity for having serious fun.
And two decades into things, the Angels appear to be having more fun and getting more done than ever.
“Twenty years old and $1.4 million given to the community from a bunch of crazy women,” is how volunteer Beth Craven explained it.
To mark the upcoming anniversary, the group is holding a fundraising dance next Saturday at the Dover Barn in West Dover Bay. The event is a throwback to the Angels’ early years, going so far as to feature the original lineup for the Atomic Blues Band, which first provided the tunes back in the day.
“We wanted it to be really nostalgic,” said Angels Over Sandpoint President Kate McAlister.
“The first thing the Angels ever did was a dance to raise money for the Sagle bike path,” Craven said. “And the Atomic Blues Band was there from the beginning.”
Since then, the volunteer organization has fanned out to embrace all sorts of causes. In those formative chapters, the Angels had a reputation for catching those who fell through the cracks of the social service network, flying in when a family lost a home to fire, or needed help getting a vehicle fixed so the breadwinner could get to work.
In a way, they were a rapid response team for those times when things hit the fan.
Jump forward to current day activities and the Angels look more like a finely tuned volunteer machine that takes on the big jobs as a way to make a big difference. Just this month, the group completed yet another successful school backpack giveaway for lower-income families.
“We distributed close to 900 backpacks,” said McAlister, adding that the program expanded to serve Clark Fork and Priest River for the first time this school year. “Every year, it increases a bit.”
Working in conjunction with partners such as Walmart, Staples and Farmin-Stidwell Elementary, the organization gains access to donated backpacks, school supplies and a venue large enough to mount a large-scale distribution effort.
With a membership of 65 volunteers in its women’s group — the Angels only recently formed a men’s group named The Clarences, in honor of the angel-in-training from the classic Jimmy Stewart film, “It’s a Wonderful Life” — the work gets spread evenly, McAlister pointed out.
“Nobody gets out of it,” she said. “Everyone’s involved.”
“It is pretty much 100 percent participation,” Craven agreed. “It’s a hands-on group.”
The annual Follies ribald variety show still ranks as the group’s biggest moneymaker of the year, though hopes are high that next weekend’s anniversary dance will top off the coffers, as well.
“We’re hoping to raise at least $5,000 at the dance,” Craven said.
Where the Angels Over Sandpoint once acted as a safety net, they now leverage their considerable fundraising muscle by working directly with local organizations whose task is helping those in need. Members who become aware of someone needing help submit a request, which is promptly vetted and, if given the green light, the needed funds are paid directly to the vendor involved, whether an auto mechanic or the power company.
But it’s the connection with associated community groups that is proving the most potent, according to the president.
“We’re working smarter, not harder, by working directly with organizations that can make our money go farther,” she said.
Chalk it up to having 20 impressive years of community service under their belts, but the Angels now are looking to the long game, forming an endowment as a way to provide uninterrupted funding well into the future. The group has raised $35,000 over the past two years, toward the goal of $50,000 needed to have the endowment administered through the Idaho Community Foundation.
“This will ensure that the Angels go on,” Craven said, adding that such a fund also will offset the perpetual need to “constantly invent new events and fundraisers.”
Having funds at the ready has become more important than ever, because, on top of the annual backpack and ongoing assistance programs, the Angels also give out nearly $20,000 in annual student scholarships. In alignment with the organization’s own goals, one of the primary considerations for those awards is how much community service work the applicant has been a part of.
In acknowledging those good works, the Angels could also be priming the pump for new members over time. Those who join, however, should be prepared to roll up their sleeves — and have some laughs.
“We come up with a lot of fun things to do while we’re helping other people,” Craven said.
Hot on the heels of the Sept. 23 dance, the group will host a fashion show called ‘Sandpoint Style’ on Nov. 11, built around the seasonal sartorial shift with a theme of “Get Your Boots On.”
Somehow, the members also have managed to paint the AOS signature angel on dozens of small rocks, which are being secreted away in locations around the area, waiting to be discovered, picked up and spirited off. The idea, McAlister noted, is simply to keep the angelic image top-of-mind — and to spur a few extra financial donations, where possible.
“The community seems to love the Angels,” she said. “This is a way for us to have Angels everywhere.”
The Angels Over Sandpoint 20th Anniversary Dance will take place next Sat., Sept. 23, with live music from 6-10 p.m., at the Dover Barn. Tickets are $20 for those 21 and over, available at Eve’s Leaves and online at sandpointonline.com
For more information, go online to angelsoversandpoint.org or facebook.com/angelsoversandpoint.