A Pandemic-Era St. Patrick’s Fundraiser Benefits Local Irish Charities

This is the time of year when Philly-area Irish charities would be asking you to dig deep into your pockets to help them raise money for their big St. Patrick’s Day events.

With the coronavirus pandemic rules meant to keep us safe and attendance at live events seriously limited, those events just aren’t going to happen. We’ll miss them, but for now you’ll have to be satisfied—actually, we confidently predict that you will be well and truly satisfied—by a virtual fundraiser called Shamrock Aid 2021.

It’s scheduled for Wednesday, March 10, from 7 to 9 p.m. You’ll be able to see it on the Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day Parade Facebook page . If you are typically inclined to support organizations dedicated to Irish causes, now is the time to give, and give generously.

The Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day Parade, The Irish Society and 298, Inc., the charitable arm of IBEW Local 98, will be the beneficiaries. There will be limited attendance at a live version of this event at IATSE Local 8 Stagehands Union Hall Ballroom, Swanson Street in Philly—and those slots are already filled—but the primary performance is, and was always intended to be, online, coordinated by members of the Stagehands Union.

Shamrock Aid 2021 will featured local Irish bands, dancers, Irish toasts, and comedian Joe Conklin.

As you might imagine, the past year has been a tough year for members of the Stagehands Union, but in spite of their difficulties, they donated their well-honed expertise to coordinate and present the online performances.

For all practical intents and purposes, the Stagehands saw their livelihoods all but disappear almost overnight, a year ago.

“It was the most devastating impact we have ever seen in our history,” explains Michael Barnes, former Local 8 business manager and now the union’s first international vice president. “We’ve survived depressions and recessions. We were just not pandemic-proof. We took a real hit.”

And although the word “stagehands” is in the union’s name, the union represents a wide variety of performance-related workers—everyone from ticket sellers and studio mechanics to hairdressers and ushers. They work on Broadway plays, but they also work in television and movies, too. You’ll also see their handiwork at trade shows. They’re involved in event catering. They’re pretty much all over the place. The IATSE is the biggest behind-the-scenes performance union, says Barnes. 

This time last year, members of the union were scheduled to work on the local broadcast of the Philadelphia parade. That source of employment also disappeared last year.

The idea for the event came from IBEW 98 John Dougherty, says Michael Bradley, parade board executive committee member.

From that idea, Shamrock Aid has just taken off. 

The primary income from the event is coming from sponsorships, says Bradley. “But we’re going to ask for small donations, too, though, from everybody,” he says. “Anything we can do to keep going. It’s just a good idea to get small donations, to keep people engaged and interested. We’re trying to stay relevant, especially for old people, shut-ins, we want to give them something to look forward to.”

That’s not to say that the parade doesn’t still have expenses. The parade board still has to carry insurance, and there were costs from last year’s parade, too, even though it was canceled.

Bradley gives a major shout-out to the union members involved in this presentation, especially members of IATSE Local 8. Many of the trades are back to work. But the Stagehands have been especially hard-hit. He singles out Barnes for praise in particular.

“I just think about the amount of stress his members are under,” Bradley says, “and here he is trying to help other people raise money for charity. It’s pretty noble.”

Barnes, a member of The Irish Society, doesn’t quite see it that way. He has been involved in the Irish community for decades, so this is just what you do to keep the Irish community together.

“I think it’s going to be interesting. We’re kind of winging it, but we’re going to have fun with that,” Barnes says. “I think people will see the energy we’re creating. It’s an opportunity to connect together and create a good vibe, even in these challenging times.”

Stay tuned to the Shamrock Aid website for details.

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