SOUTHERN ILLINOIS -- When Sen. Dale Fowler (R-Harrisburg) sends out the mailing this week regarding the annual golf day fundraiser, it won't be to announce registration.
"We're going to have to cancel," said Fowler on Monday afternoon.
What would have been the 18th Annual Fowler Bonan Foundation Clothes for Kids Jr. Golf Day is the latest event to fall victim to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"This is the very event that created the initiative that came from my childhood memory," said Fowler.
Fowler said as a child he rode the bus with two kids who were obviously in need. "That made an impression on me. I always wanted to do something that would help kids like these."
He started the Jr. Golf Day 18 years ago, raising $1,500. Over the years, it has become the marquee fundraiser for the foundation, bringing in as much as $30,000.
"All I initially wanted to do was raise a few dollars and go into the elementary school where I attended and be able to supply a complete wardrobe to four or five kids each year," said Fowler.
That initial dream has grown to serve around 600 kids in 18 counties each year, often including families in catastrophic situations.
The foundation has also started helping homeless veterans.
But Fowler's original idea is still at the forefront.
"Making sure that all children have proper apparel for school is my goal," he said. "It increases their self-esteem and confidence that the more privileged children already have. It makes a difference in their academic performance."
The golf day usually hosts around 100 kids from age 4 through high school.
"It's not a competition," said Fowler. "It's just a day of fun. Some of the kids have never even been on a golf course."
Fowler said he is intent on continuing the foundation's mission even though he's not sure where the money will come from.
The pandemic also forced the cancellation of the other signature fundraiser, Taste of Southern Illinois.
"In 18 years, we've never had to turn down anyone," he said.
He is hoping that people will step up and provide funding, even though he knows people are hurting financially.
Not only does the foundation provide clothes, but it also sponsors Heaven's Kitchen Harrisburg on Tuesdays, providing as many as 300 hot meals. That program has spread to Marion, thanks to the efforts of Marion entrepreneur Jeff Diederich, whose foundation has partnered to operate the Marion program.
"It seems like whenever we have a need, people come through," he said.
Donate at www.fowlerbonanfoundation.com. There is also a Facebook page or email firstname.lastname@example.org, or checks can be sent to P.O. Box 848, Harrisburg, IL 62946.
"Or they can call me," said Fowler. "I'm just intent on continuing our mission."