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Central Kansas CASA prepares for annual Chocolate Auction
Central Kansas CASA
In advance of Central Kansas CASA’ annual Chocolate Auction coming Feb. 5, the organization hosted a Great Bend Chamber of Commerce coffee Thursday at the Holiday Inn. - photo by BY DALE HOGG Great Bend Tribune

After one year as a virtual event, the Central Kansas CASA Chocolate Auction returns to a completely in-person format for the organization’s 17th Annual fundraising event, held this year on Saturday, Feb. 5 at 5:30 p.m. at the Great Bend Events Center.

“We’re excited to be back in person this year, and we’d love to see a great turnout,” said Central Kansas CASA executive Director Jennifer Gregg.

This year’s event, as in previous years, will include a live auction, a silent auction, as well as multiple raffles. The raffles include a trip to Sanibel Island off the coast of Florida, and a cupcake raffle for a diamond pendant.

Gregg said they are still accepting donations, up until date of the auction. They generally have approximately 50 items on the live auction and over 100 on the silent auction by the time the auction begins. In addition to the raffles, there are many “wonderful trips, parties, and experiences” as well as other items up for bid this year.

Holding the event in person this year after a virtual event last year was an important qualification for many of the donations the organization has received for this year’s event. There is no online bidding set up this year, and bidding must be done in-person.

“We want everyone to be comfortable and enjoy getting back to the fun of the event and our entire focus is on the children,” said Gregg. “This year’s theme is ‘Through the Eyes of a Child’, as everything we do at CASA is to serve children.”

Gregg said, however, they are trying to get as many of the items out on social media as possible prior to the event so that if one is not able to attend, they can have someone bid in their place if there is an item they’d like to bid on. They are also accepting donations from those unable to attend the event.

For those attending in person, however, Gregg said masks and hand sanitizer will be readily available throughout the event for guests who wish to use them.

Community support for the fundraiser is important, she said, because approximately 87 percent of the organization’s annual operating budget comes from this once-a-year fundraiser.

A lot of work goes into preparing for the fundraiser she said. “There is a committee of ladies who work feverishly behind the scenes to prepare beautifully curated items for the live and silent auctions, and some of the best parties or group experiences in town that will be up for bid that evening.”

In addition to salaries for full-time staff and travel and training expenses for the organization’s 23 volunteers, Gregg said the funds also help provide overnight bags filled with necessities provided to children when they are assigned CASAs  (Court Appointed Special Advocates) once they are placed in foster care. Because of a lack of foster homes, foster kids spend a great deal of time moving around and don’t often have a chance to go home for personal belongings. 

Each bag, in addition to necessities such as toiletries and clothes, also includes a more personal item such as a blanket or stuffed animal, in an effort to give the kids something personal they can call their own.

By supporting the event, she said, “You are very directly impacting the number of children who will be served. It is a great opportunity to do something for children who are so desperately in need.”

The meal for this year’s event will be catered by Ellsworth Steakhouse in Ellsworth. As in past years, a chocolate fountain and chocolate martinis will be centerpieces of the evening’s event.

Tickets for the event are $50, and can be purchased at the Great Bend Chamber of Commerce office or by calling the Central Kansas CASA office, 620-792-5544. Tickets can also be purchased through Central Kansas CASA board members.

About Central Kansas CASA

Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASAs, are volunteers who serve as a voice for children in the court and foster care system. CASAs are assigned specifically to be the child’s advocate, and not for the interest of the parents or the system.

“(CASAs) are the one and only voice that speaks for the child in the court system,” Gregg said. “The CASA volunteer is often the only steady presence in the child’s life at a most difficult time.”

Central Kansas CASA oversees cases in the Kansas 20th Judicial District, which serves Barton, Russell, Stafford, Ellsworth and Rice counties. In addition to meeting with the children for regular progress updates, CASA volunteers also attend court hearings with the kids they are assigned to. CASA volunteers also prepare reports based on their meetings with kids.

Individuals must go through 30 hours of training to become a volunteer, as well as several hours a year of continuing education. 

Because the Central Kansas CASA office serves such a large district, these fundraisers are especially important in covering expenses over such a large territory.

“(The volunteer) being there in person (for the child) is definitely important, and so with a five-county service area, it definitely adds to the expense,” Gregg said.