The coronavirus pandemic has hit most area businesses hard, but local, mostly small nonprofit organizations have suffered even more.
Groups like the Seaford Historical Museum depend entirely on donations and their own occasional fundraisers. With businesses struggling, discretionary spending is at a premium and the possibility of holding fundraisers is slim. The museum, and other nonprofits, have had to find creative ways to make ends meet.
“We already knew in March that we’d probably have to cancel the Harvest Fair” held each September, Historical Society President Judy Bongiovi said. “That was our main fundraiser for the year. We depended on it for almost everything, and we don’t have any other events planned to take its place.”
But, Bongiovi added grimly, “The bills still have to be paid. We hope we’ll be able to have the Harvest Fair next year, but we had to think of something in the meantime.”
The museum was finishing up a multi-year renovation when the pandemic began making headlines in February. The bell tower of the building — formerly Seaford’s third schoolhouse, built in 1893 — was nearing completion after more than three years of fundraising and rehabilitation. The front walkway was already finished when it was suggested that the prosaic red bricks presented just the kind of creative opportunity the museum needed. The organization’s board decided to turn the path around the museum into a historic trail.
Now donors can buy bricks for $100 each and have up to four lines of text inscribed on them. Since the path goes all the way around the museum, the project presents an opportunity for a steady stream of income.
“We put our names and our wedding date on ours,” Bongiovi said of the brick she and her husband, Steve, bought. Others have memorialized departed relatives. Some sport the name of a favorite restaurant, and businesses like Wantagh’s Iavarone Brothers have taken advantage of the opportunity to advertise. But most sponsors have simply opted for their names.
To date, roughly 100 bricks have been sold.
“The Harvest Fair was a very big annual project,” Bongiovi said, adding that many more bricks would have to be sold to approach the income generated by the fair. Fortunately, the renovation of the bell tower was nearly complete, and needs only a paint job. “You can see the multi-colored shingles, but otherwise it’s finished,” Bongiovi said. “Just this week we put up the last of the shingles.”
The schoolhouse underwent extensive renovations beginning 10 years ago, and the museum, which has occupied the building since 1967, reopened in 2012.
Until the virus struck, the museum was a hive of programs tracking Seaford’s history. Artifacts are contributed or loaned by local residents like longtime member Fred Roth, whose collection of photos of life in Seaford in the late 19th and early 20th centuries is unrivaled.
Past exhibits included life on the bay for Seaford’s baymen, the rough-and-tumble fishermen who also doubled as rumrunners during the hamlet’s colorful Prohibition era.
The museum lacks the technology of many of local libraries that offer virtual programs, Bongiovi said, and even opening it on a limited basis presents risks. “Many of our members are older and more vulnerable to the virus,” she said. “We can’t run the risk, even with limited numbers.”