Meat raffles look to continue fundraising despite setbacks

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WBEN) - Western New Yorkers have largely missed out on one of the region's most popular activities this year: meat raffles.

The raffles have traditionally been used to raise funds for area not-for-profit organizations. It's not uncommon for there to be dozens of meat raffles in and around Buffalo each week that draw hundreds of eager meat-seekers.

The government is forbidding in-person meat raffles due to the pandemic. Caitlynne Kesty, a local meat raffle emcee and admin at WNY Meat Raffles, said this year has hurt a lot of these not-for-profits.

"It was helping to raise a lot of money for most travel teams and schools" Kesty said. "Now they don't have that influx of money and a lot of things just stopped. They're not able to get funding they normally have and have to postpone things. A lot of baseball teams go to Cooperstown. Or they're raising money to get supplies for school. A lot of people are wondering what are we going to do?"

The solution? Virtual meat raffles.

Kesty organizes the meat raffles by having the groups pay electronically. She then organizes all participants in a spreadsheet and gives them three random numbers each round. A Facebook live begins so that participants can follow along.

Winners of various meats can pick up their prize the next day at a site determined by the fundraising organization.

Surpringly, some groups have raised more money by conducting a virtual meat raffle instead of an in-person one. Even though no one can physically attend a location, the virtual meat raffles allowed for organizations to reduce costs such as renting out a gymnasium or VFW hall.

"The first meat raffle I ever did, right off the bat they raised $10,000," Kesty said. "And that was after everything was paid for. The hall, the meat, right off the bat, it was $10,000...One thing we did notice is that they can actually make more because they're not paying for the hall, alcohol, or tickets. They're solely paying for our services as far as getting the meat all put together and getting the meat handed out. They could double their income."

Even though Kesty and other organizers have largely ironed out how to successfully operate a meat raffle, there's groups that are negatively impacted with the loss of in-person meat raffles. The buildings that traditionally rent out the spaces for the non-profits are losing out on costs.

"A close personal one to me is out in Riverside," she said. "They haven't been able to fix their facility because they don't have the essentially free income to them. They don't have the money raised."

Meat companies are also hurting because there are fewer events.

Dave Czuprynski, Vice President of Purchasing at Latina Boulevard Foods, said they helped organize meat for about 25 to 30 events last year. This year, he said it's been in the single digits.

"It's been just about non-existant," Czuprynski said. "It's a critical component to our business. We definitely miss them. We hope we will get back with them soon and get this thing behind us and get back to something that resembles some sort of normal."

There's also the in-person experience of a meat raffle where friends and families can get together to celebrate. Kesty said she doesn't think virtual meat raffles will become the standard in the future.

"I think some of them might stick to virtual but I think the biggest thing with meat raffles is getting people together and having fun," she said. "You don't get that personal experience. Sure, you get to look at my face the whole night. But you don't get to sit with all your friends and have the drinks and a free night out away from the kids. You're stuck at home watching a Facebook Live and eating your own snacks whereas you get to go out and have fun, make jokes, yell 'hot dogs' in the middle of a hall."

For a future list of meat raffles, visit WNYMeatRaffles.com