The COVID-19 pandemic forced Laubach Literacy NB (LLNB), like so many community organizations, to rethink its engagement strategy in light of COVID-19. In a typical year, the adult literacy program would plan a variety of fundraising events throughout the province. Physical distancing guidelines prevented that this year, so when Executive Director Carol Cottrill sat down to plan LLNB’s biggest fundraiser of the year, its annual gala, she knew ingenuity and flexibility would be the key.
Having partnered with the NBCC Hospitality department in Moncton for several years through the College’s Robertson Institute for Community Leadership, Cottrill again sought out the NBCC team to brainstorm event ideas that could work in a virtual environment. This collaboration bore the vision to execute a gala in a box, an event soon after branded as “Tour of the Mediterranean.”
NBCC Hotel and Restaurant Management student Natasha Kheroim was one of the two team leads who helped execute the event as part of her Event Planning course.
“It was both fun and a valuable experience,” said Kheroim. ”If it was not for COVID, this event would have been on our campus, and it would have been the same as last year, where we were helping in the ballroom. This kind of idea was very brilliant because people are stuck at home and cannot travel much… This helped us get out of the box.”
The premise behind “Tour of the Mediterranean” was to create five Mediterranean excursions in an experience that emulated a cruise ship vacation with opportunities for guests to learn more about the various ports and cultures they visited.
NBCC instructor Nathalie Beers said perhaps one of the most exciting aspects was the opportunity to bring the whole hospitality program together to work on the event. Students even developed about half of the event’s marketing materials, including recipe cards and cocktail cards.
“This project actually combined many different courses,” said Kheroim. “We used sales and marketing, and we had to prepare marketing materials, social communications, and use event management. Then we worked together with [the] kitchen to pack the boxes. NBCC is all about hands-on experience, and this was 100 per cent hands-on.”
So, just how successful is a virtual gala compared to a traditional in-person event? Well, LLNB would say a virtual format worked for them – “Tour of the Mediterranean” raised $11,000 and reached a greater audience than ever before.
When asked if she would consider a virtual gala for their next gala event, Cottrill was quick to reply.
“Absolutely!… People talk about the challenge of COVID, but we also have to look at the opportunity. We had a number of people attend this year who were not our typical supporters... To be able to have a meal in my home but still be able to experience a gala type of dinner was a really exciting thing.”
Beers said the Hospitality department at NBCC was proud to be part of this event.
“Now that we’ve done it, other people are saying ‘why didn’t we think of that?’… It’s all about innovation and keeping up with the times and creativity, which is exactly what you do to change and try to better yourselves.”
This wasn’t the first time that NBCC and LLNB have partnered on fundraising projects. Last year, NBCC’s Hospitality programs supported LLNB by baking cookies for their Book Extravaganza and serving guests at their gala.