Embracing the power of community to help lighten the load
By Abigail Thorpe
If you wander the Sagle Bike Path, as the path winds down by the water between the bridge and the dog beach, you’ll notice a stone bench—the perfect spot to stop and take in the view. This was one of Sandpoint local Kathy Pelland’s favorite spots, and the bench is in memory of her.
Kathy was killed tragically in 1997 on the long bridge at the hands of an oncoming drunk driver, and the bench is just one in a long line of legacies she left behind. Hundreds of people came out for her memorial, and as people gathered and shared memories, one phrase was repeated again and again: “Kathy helped me when ….” She had always given to others, regardless of time and circumstances.
It was Kathy’s memory that inspired a group of local individuals to live, laugh and lighten the load of others in the community, and so Angels Over Sandpoint was born.
Nine or 10 of Kathy’s friends got together and decided they would have a party to raise money for a memorial site for her. More money than was needed flowed in, so the group donated $3,000 in Kathy’s name to help finish the Sagle Bike Path. “We decided, let’s just keep it going and see if we can do some more good things. And now we’ve spent over $1 million in Bonner County for the community,” says founding member Carolyn Sorentino.
Since its founding, the Angel’s mission has been “to honor the memory of the Angels who have gone before us by helping those in need in our community.” And that’s exactly what they do. To raise money, the nonprofit hosts events, pairing their goal to help the community with their mission to bring people together.
“That’s what we do, have events, raise money, and then give it away,” laughs Sorentino, who’s been helping throw events and raise money now for around 23 years.
The Angel’s biggest fundraiser is The Follies each year—an adult-only variety show featuring local Sandpoint talent. The beloved and much anticipated event is essentially a burlesque show, featuring ridiculous acts, crazy outfits and often racy dialogue. But beneath its wild exterior, The Follies is the cornerstone of a wonderful cause. Every year it raises around $40,000 for the Angels Over Sandpoint to give back to those in need in the community.
Each December, the Angels get prim and proper and host a high tea, which is like the exact opposite of The Follies, smiles Sorentino. And then in recent years they started a fun run, inspired by the many Sandpointers who run so many local races throughout the year.
But this run has a twist. It is 0.08 miles long, and you have to eat a donut and drink a beer in the process. If you pay extra, the Angels will give you a ride around the course. You’ll even receive a T-shirt and medal at the end. This spoof run was incredibly popular last year, and the Angels were anticipating making it bigger and better this year, but the pandemic threw a wrench in their plans. Along with the high tea, the Angels were forced to cancel the Fun Run.
COVID-19 has made it very hard for the Angels to raise money and give like they would in a normal year. Since most of their fundraising is centered around community events, all of the fundraising they typically do has gone by the wayside this year, explains Sorentino.
“So we’re just doing our best to do what we can, to help out where we can,” she adds.
They were able to do their annual back-to-school fundraiser, though they had to rethink how they did it a bit. They’re currently starting a letter writing campaign to raise more money to help pay for debt incurred by this year’s back-to-school costs, plus next year’s. They had more expenses than normal this year, and school supplies cost more. Still, they were able to serve about 1,000 kids in need of school supplies.
Each year the Angels use the funds they raise to help those in need in the community, whether it’s helping to pay a down payment, paying someone’s utility bill one month or helping veterans with expenses. They’ve helped a senior citizen get a sink for his kitchen before. Their goal? Figure out how to give their money away in the most effective way possible.
“Our philosophy for giving our money away is to give help to people that are not eligible for normal social services,” says Sorentino. There are a lot of people who don’t receive much help from social services, like single men and women, and often veterans. There are always unique situations where someone’s gotten behind ands just needs a little help to pay their bills, and the Angels like to step in and help.
In the past, they used to vet people themselves to find those most in need. But it’s gotten more and more difficult, and sadly it’s often too easy to get scammed. So the Angels now partner with Navigation Services, which is a state social services agency. “When they get somebody in Bonner County that needs help that they can’t pay for with their funds, they vet them for us, and then we pay for their help like rent and utilities,” explains Sorentino.
The Angels budget a certain amount of money every month to go toward those individuals or families Navigation Services sends their way. “Of course, our heart is [for] battered women and that situation, and so we give a monthly amount to Priest River Advocates so they can help people with certain things that cash is required for,” says Sorentino. “If someone runs out of their house in the middle of the night, they don’t [take] anything [with them]. We help Priest River Advocates help them out.”
The Angels also extend their funds to other nonprofits in the area, offering community grants each year to organizations like the Teen Center and others. Unfortunately, this year they were unable to do the community grants due to a lack of funds.
But the pandemic hasn’t stopped them from finding ways to help. They still plan to decorate a tree for Kinderhaven, and they assisted the current health crisis by making and giving away 1,500 masks locally.
Angels Over Sandpoint includes about 57 members currently. The organization is entirely volunteer based, including the board of directors. Its overhead costs are only 1 percent—incredibly low for a nonprofit, which usually hovers around at least 15 percent or more, says Sorentino. This means almost all of the money they raise is going right back into the community.
“Our main mission is to bring the community together and to help people that fall through the cracks, and also to honor each other as friends and members of the Angels,” says Sorentino.
The Angels are always looking for donations, particularly this year as COVID-19 has significantly decreased fundraising opportunities and nonprofits are hurting. But even more so, the Angels are eager to have members join their ranks. “We’re always open for new members who want to be involved with helping people in the community,” says Sorentino.
Individuals can always volunteer for an event, but the best way to get involved is to join the Angels as a member. It’s only $20 to join for the year, and you get access to the newsletter to find out what’s going on and find ways you want to get involved. Volunteers are always needed. To find out more, or to donate to the Angels, visit AngelsOverSandpoint.org.