On Saturday, July 11, the School Sisters of St. Francis’ “Sister Water Beer Garden in a Box” fundraiser drew patrons from throughout the archdiocese who wanted to support the sisters’ efforts to provide access to clean water around the world.

Staffer Kelly Nowakowski delivers a “Beer Garden in a Box” kit to a patron of the School Sisters of St. Francis’ July 11 fundraiser. (Submitted photo)

The congregation’s Mission Advancement Office wanted to build upon the success of last year’s in-person beer garden series by reimagining the event to allow for social distancing in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

With the arrival of the virus this spring, beer gardens and many other events began shutting down. “We knew if we were to have an event, it would need to be well thought out, and include social distancing and masks to ensure everyone’s safety,” said Deb Ruesch, events coordinator.

The team decided to replace the in-person events with a “Beer Garden in a Box.” Patrons were able to preorder the ingredients for an at-home beer garden and have a no-contact pick up at the St. Joseph Center grounds. Inside the boxes were two souvenir pint glasses, a 64-ounce growler filled with a choice of Sprecher beer or root beer, two take-and-bake pretzels, and a jar of Sprecher’s gourmet mustard.

The response to the event was tremendous and orders were coming in faster than anyone could have expected. “About a week before the event, we had to call in a rush order to get more growlers,” Ruesch said. “We did not know it would be this well received.” She said that even with the additional growlers, two days before the event, all the beer and root beer was sold out.

Staff and volunteers greeted customers as they arrived, checked IDs, assembled the orders, and then placed the boxes in the patrons’ cars. Guests reported that they did not have to wait long in line. Members of the congregation’s International Leadership Team greeted and thanked customers as they picked up their orders.

Local band Kaleidoscope performed classic rock and R & B songs as the guests drove up and picked up their orders. The performance was streamed on Facebook so that customers could have a beer garden experience at home while enjoying their beer and pretzels. “We wanted to keep the event fun and interesting,” Ruesch said.

“I heard nothing but positive comments from our guests,” said Sr. Kathy Chuston, special appeals administrator, who checked patron IDs. “They thought that everything seemed well organized and were happy to still be able to support our international missions.”

The congregation raised more than $21,000 for clean water projects at their global missions.

“I don’t have words that are adequate to thank those who gave their time and energy to help out,” Ruesch said. “The sisters’ prayers were instrumental, and the thank you letters that they wrote were appreciated by many people.”

“I was so surprised, and truly humbled, by the incredible generosity of the over 300 people who placed orders for the day,” said Pam Mueller, director of mission advancement. “Having sold out two days before the event was completely unexpected, something we could not have imagined when this was a germ of an idea in early May. But with the help of our creative and hardworking staff and volunteers, and the generosity of our partners, it was a huge success.”

The sisters are looking forward to their next beer garden fundraiser on from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 8. Patrons began placing orders this week on the sisters’ website, www.sssf.org and ordering will continue until 3 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 5, unless the inventory sells out early.