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‘We’re down 38% on last year’: The MS Readathon has been hit hard by the pandemic

Covid-19 has sped-up a change that was due to happen to the MS Readathon anyway – this year, adults can take part for the first time.

MS IRELAND IS concerned about its flagship event, the MS Readathon. 

For over 30 years, it has encouraged children to read as many books as they can for the month of November, and gather sponsorship from family and friends for doing so.

The initiatives are widespread across primary schools, and the amounts raised are donated to MS Ireland.

Traditionally, this and its Christmas appeal are its largest source of donations; the Readathon made up 60% of its total fundraised income last year.

But sign-ups are down. Last year, 450 schools took part in the MS Readathon, while this year, when teachers and schools are under more pressure than usual, just 190 schools have signed up so far.

The Covid-19 pandemic has posed a serious challenge for MS Ireland, as it has for many charities that rely heavily on fundraising events. A ban or constraint on large gatherings has meant that hugely popular events like Darkness Into Light are cancelled or replaced with an online version

“We’re already down 38% on last year,” CEO of MS Ireland Ava Battles says, adding that their largest fundraising drives – the Readathon and Christmas appeal – are towards the end of the year. 

Fundraising at churchgates and at the end of the till in shops is also a “significant” method of fundraising for MS Ireland, Battles says, but adds that none of these may return even after the pandemic. 

In total, they’re expecting to be down €1 million on last year.

Because of similar challenges caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, big changes have been made to the MS Readathon: for example, adults can now take part for the first time in the Readathon’s history, and the fundraising has been moved from paper to online.

There had been concerns previously that the MS Readathon was too paper-heavy. Around 45,000 sponsorship packs are sent to schools each year, but teachers and parents had expressed concerns about the various pieces there were to the sponsorship kit.

So instead, the physical sponsorship sheets are gone and the whole fundraising operation has been moved online, where individuals, a class, or a school can sign up.

This was something that MS Ireland had been looking at anyway, Ava Battles told TheJournal.ie, due to environmental and cost concerns. 

We know that teachers’ priorities are different this year, we know that schools are focusing on implementing new safety measures and procedures.
It’s going to take a bit of getting used to and take a bit of time until they find their groove. However, we’ve yet to find a teacher who doesn’t want to inspire more reading, but we know how busy they are.

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