In April 2012, Team Fox member Josie Poehlmann celebrated the tenth anniversary of her event, the Annual Tom Poehlmann Benefit for Parkinson’s. Together with her sons Tom Jr. and Brian, Josie has been raising funds to honor her late husband, who had Parkinson’s disease. In the last ten years, they have raised nearly a quarter of a million dollars for Team Fox by inviting their friends and family members to McFadden’s Restaurant and Saloon in Philadelphia for an afternoon complete with live music, raffles, a silent auction and free draft beer.
This year’s event brought many obstacles, including new state gambling laws that prevented their annual (and successful) 50/50 and Chinese raffles, a torrential downpour on the day of that they were sure would affect attendance, and more. Despite all of this, about 300 people attended and they achieved their goal of raising $20,000.
We caught up with Josie to get her thoughts on this year’s event, and how things have evolved over the years. Anyone who lives in a state with strict gambling laws, take note. The Poehlmann family got creative this year when they were prohibited from having their raffles.
Team Fox: This was your 10th annual Tom Poehlmann Benefit. How has the event grown/changed over the years? What does the event mean to you?
Josie Poehlmann: This year was our 10th annual event in memory of my late husband, Tom. The first year was a very small venue. My son was a bartender where we held the event. It was only 9 months after Tom’s death. I think at first, it was a way to keep our minds busy and not dwell on the loss. We always held the event the last week of March. This was when Tom went in for his DBS, so it had meaning for us. As the years went on, we grew to a bigger and bigger venue. By the third year, we were holding it at the sports bar at Citizen’s Bank Park where the Philadelphia Phillies play baseball. It is centrally located, has a great layout, and plenty of parking. Our friends are so supportive that we realized we could generate a lot of funds with a silent auction. In time, we had so many items, we added a Chinese auction and 50/50 raffles.
This event means more to us each year. We know firsthand the difficulties the patients and their families face with PD. Tom was so strong and otherwise healthy. This disease brought him to his knees in six short years. Somehow we have to raise awareness so others will be able to have the support and compassion that we could not find.
TF: Do you have an event committee in place? Do you implement any fundraising strategies to keep your costs down?
JP: We talk about forming a committee each year, and then, somehow, life sets in and we are planning another one ourselves. My son Brian and his wife, Zeffi, are the wind behind this event. Brian is in the bar business and between him and my other son, Tom, there are many friends that are restaurateurs. McFadden’s gives us a great price on the alcohol and food since Brian works there. Everything else we do is donated from printing and t-shirts to $800 worth of raffle prizes. I own a hair salon and my clients have supported this raffle for all of these years. I am also blessed to have a lot of wonderful relatives, friends and employees, who brainstorm each year for new ideas and put a lot of sweat into the event.
TF: What was the most difficult part of putting together your event his year? What was the easiest part?
JP: This year we had a roadblock. The state of Pennsylvania decided to enforce gambling laws prohibiting us from conducting games of chance. We had to get creative. To replace the 50/50 raffle we bought some unusual shaped containers. We filled one with animal crackers, one with skittles and one with rubber bands. Three different people circulated the room with clipboards and their container. The point of the game was to guess how many items were in each container, and we charged a guessing fee. We had three different prizes for each, and everyone seemed to have fun with the new game.
TF: If you could do one thing differently, what would it be and why?
JP: We found out that there are people who do silent auctions as a profession. We took a chance this year and hired one. It was the easiest part of the event. We had nothing to do. He took his percentage and we made out remarkably well. I would recommend this if you have a way to check out the credibility of the vendor. He handled the setup, breakdown and check out, and we made more than he did. It was a huge success.
TF: Anything else you’d like to share?
JP: This event has become so much more than healing our sadness on the anniversary of Tom’s death. It has taken on a life of its own. I am a true spokesperson for Parkinson’s disease. Being a caregiver for so many years, and witnessing the ups and downs of the meds and the personality changes of the afflicted, I try to help in any way I can. Even if it is just listening. We know how much MJFF has accomplished in these 10 years. There is still so much more to do, but it isn’t even about the money. Each year we meet young onset patients at our event. This fundraiser brings awareness about Parkinson’s disease. We are there to give information, to steer those afflicted in the right direction, and give our support, comfort and friendship.