NORTH BRANFORD – When the COVID-19 postponement dominoes started falling for the popular summer activities on the Branford Green, such as Branford Festival, Jazz Series and Woofstock, the Branford Compassion Club knew that Animal Awareness Day, its biggest fundraiser of the year, scheduled for Oct. 4, was probably in jeopardy.

The news could have paralyzed the nonprofit feline rescue and adoption organization, which relies totally on private funding to keep its shelter at 2037 Foxon Road open to fulfill its mission to control the area homeless feline population.

Instead, its board of directors decided to go bigger, better and mostly virtual, designating October as Animal Awareness Month this year.

“When those events on the Green were cancelled, it was kind of a clue that nothing was going to be happening on the Green for a long time,” says BCC Board President Peg Johnson, adding that after monitoring the COVID-19 crisis for several more months, “We decided in July at an Animal Awareness Day meeting to expand to a month and worked to come up with a slate of events for the month.”

The highlight and only live portion will be its popular annual Blessing of the Animals, a drive-through event at 1:30 p.m. Oct. 4 at North Branford Congregational Church, 1680 Foxon Road. Cars will line up with their pets inside, enter at Church Street for a drive-by blessing from representatives of several denominations, and exit onto Route 80 at the traffic light. A framed personalized animal blessing may be purchased for $10.

Event Chairperson Chris Gagne noted that “It’s not the same event it has been for many years, but when all is said and done, we think it’s going to be a very special month for BCC, and we hope that everyone comes back stronger in 2021.”

There will not be any mini horses, dwarf goats, the popular bake sale, or a chance to check out the many vendors who have supported the event for decades on the Green. In its place, BCC is asking the public to support them through online sales of Pet Memorial Leaves and Nick’s Wicks soy-based candles, a Food and Supply Drive for the cats (all Oct. 1-31) and a Silent Auction (Oct. 16-18). Details on the how-to’s and wish list for needs are at www.branfordcompassion club.org.

They hope the virtual events replace some significant lost revenue from BCC’s 2020 cancelled fundraisers, such as seasonal food drives and various sales. The silent auction items, which include two Apple TV streaming devices, Kate Spade purse, hand-crocheted afghan, jewelry and Instant Pot/pressure cooker, were to be part of a cancelled spring fashion show. The Pet Memorial Leaves may be purchased in memory of a beloved departed pet. They will be added to the shelter’s Giving Tree of Life wall mural: yellow leaves ($20) orange ($35), red ($50), purple ($100) and gold ($500).

Nick’s Wicks, the company started by 9-year-old Nick Vigliotti of Guilford, devotes 30 percent of profits from its soy-based candles sales to help nonprofits. They are available at Ella’s Where She Shops and The Marketplace in Guilford and online at his Etsy shop at https://www.etsy.com/shop/nickswicks2020.

“Virtual events aren’t necessarily as much fun as a physical event that brings together like-minded people in a community to work toward a common goal, but we don’t have a choice, and we have such an amazing group of supporters that always come through for us when the chips are down …, ” says Gagne. “We are confident they will do so again.”

Animal Awareness Day is always a free event for spectators, as are all events on the Green. It relies on the support of its sponsors and vendors and whatever donations visitors care to make. Several sponsors had already signed on before the pandemic protocols, and none, says Johnson, withdrew that support.

They are: Platinum: Autografix, Branford Veterinary Hospital, c2cGraphics, WordWorks LLC; Gold: Susan Barnes, Branford Community Foundation, The Dogfather Mobile Grooming, Guilford Savings Bank, Nick’s Wicks Candles, Shore Publishing; Silver: Aquatic Pool & Spa Services, Companions & Homemakers, In Memory of Jupiter Johnson, Eunice Lasala, Pawson Insurance Group; Bronze: Physical Fitness LLC, Shoreline Pet Lodge, Van Wilgen’s Garden Center.

“Yes, it’s frustrating and it’s disappointing, because in these times, we need the money. We’re taking in cats as well as adopting out cats (by curbside),” says Johnson. “We know we could do more without the COVID crisis, and it’s not the same. But all the nonprofits are hurting.”

Johnson also expressed gratitude for the sponsors. “I just didn’t want our sponsors to be disappointed. Most of them came on pre-pandemic, and to not be able to have an in-person event feels like we’re letting down our sponsors who’ve been unbelievably supportive over the years. We encourage people to patronize them whenever possible.”

And next year?

“We are looking forward to next year, where we hope to make up for it. Maybe we will make it into a whole month again, but still have that big day on the Green,” she says.

Connecticut Media Group