Savannah readies ‘Virtual Ball’ fund-raising telethon

By: David Ibata

The Salvation Army in Savannah, Georgia, in past years has rented a big ballroom and invited upwards of a 150 people to its annual gala, a formal fundraiser with a catered dinner, inspiring speakers, uplifting music and a silent auction.

There will be no ballroom or dinner in 2020, given the restrictions on social gatherings due to the continuing COVID-19 pandemic. But the fundraiser – renamed “The Ambassador’s Ball” this year to honor volunteers, donors and supporters who serve as Salvation Army ambassadors – must go on.

“We sat down and said, what do we do in light of COVID-19?” said Samantha Greder, special events coordinator for The Salvation Army in Savannah. Obviously, the event would have to be virtual.

“The idea of a variety show and telethon formed,” Greder said. “Our PR team has great connections with musicians. We did a Zoom call with WSAV-TV (the local NBC affiliate). They liked the idea and offered to broadcast it.”

Such was the genesis of the Virtual Ambassador’s Ball, 8 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 25. It will be hosted by WSAV news personalities Tina Tyus-Shaw and Patty Turner. Another Salvation Army partner, Lesley Francis Public Relations, is handling much of the behind-the-scenes work. To visit the event web site and see a complete list of sponsors, click here.

“We’re going to have five phones set up as a phone bank at the studio to receive calls from those who’d like to donate,” Greder said. “We have an online auction already started for those who’d prefer to give that way. We have musicians coming. Charlotte Jones Anderson, executive vice president of the Dallas Cowboys and daughter of team owner Jerry Jones, will be giving a message; and Carlton Moe, who plays Ubaldo Piangi in ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ on Broadway, will perform.”

Silent auction packages range from a “Night on the River” with a Riverboat dinner cruise for four, a two-night hotel stay and a ghost tour of Savannah; to a “Picnic in the Park” with cookie basket, sunglasses and tickets to Savannah Bananas baseball games; to a “Moved by Music” with a Gretsch G9500 Limited Edition guitar and gift certificates for guitar and piano lessons.

The goal is to raise $50,000 to help cover the costs of The Salvation Army’s response to the coronavirus. The Army has expanded its emergency shelter services; fed children at the shelter and supported their online learning; delivered refreshments to first responders; offered food, clothing, rent and utilities assistance to financially stressed families; and extended pastoral care to the community.

An anonymous benefactor is matching each donation, dollar for dollar, up to $150,000.

“Due to social-distancing requirements, we were disappointed that we would not be able to host this year’s Ambassador’s Ball in person, said Major Paul Egan, Savannah commanding officer, “but thankfully we were blessed with WSAV’s partnership to make it better than ever.

“We are very excited to host our first virtual event and hope to make it an entertaining and impactful night for the community as we celebrate our 120 years of service to this great region.”