If life was normal, John Gorel and the Greater Carbondale Chamber of Commerce would be working on preparing for one of their biggest fundraisers of the year: The NEPA Valley Wine Train.

The chamber would be planning networking events for fall, an educational series and even a community art event. Instead, they’re getting creative to help local businesses survive the myriad challenges the coronavirus pandemic has posed. So when he heard about virtual raffles being held by a local Little League organization, Gorel got inspired.

“They were raffling off some great prizes,” the chamber’s executive director said in an email. “Our spin is that we want to support our local businesses, whether it restaurants, retail, service, etc. We will raffle a gift card or a product from one of the businesses.”

The raffles began Aug. 20. What is being raffled off is announced in a special Facebook group, Chamber Chance. Participants can buy chances via Paypal to chamberchance27@gmail.com. Recent raffle items include a $200 Nellie’s WOW Mop sponsored by the Carbondale Vacuum Center at The Fixit Shoppe, a $150 Visa giftcard to be used at a Carbondale area business and various gift cards to Carbondale area businesses.

Each raffle has a specific number of chances, Gorel explained. When the spots for that raffle are filled, the names of the people who bought chances are put into a wheel spin app online, which chooses a winner.

“We then take the proceeds from the raffle and purchase the prize to support the business/businesses we and get it to our winner,” he said.

So far, the response has been good, Gorel said.

“The ... pandemic has really affected the Chamber financially this year,” he said. “Due to the pandemic, we have lost a lot of our fundraising opportunities, which is a big part of our yearly budget. Some of the events that we had to cancel this year was the NEPA Valley Wine Train, this is our biggest fundraiser of the year. We also had to cancel our Annual Taste of the Town event that usually happens in late fall. During the past six months, all of our in person events have come to halt. We were unable to do in person networking events such as business card exchanges.”

The pandemic has also wreaked havoc on the businesses.

“The pandemic has affected so many different our the member businesses in one way or another,” he said. “I have seen some of our businesses go out of businesses during this time, and I am still seeing many holding (by a) thread to keep their doors open.”

The chamber has helped local businesses with grant and loan applications but the raffle idea was another way they could help, Gorel said.

“I wanted a way to be able to support member businesses, even it is just a little ... while trying to raise funds for the Greater Carbondale Chamber of Commerce to keep our lights on and programs moving forward,” he said.

Just what the future holds is anyone’s guess, Gorel added, with the restaurant business especially being a “roller coaster.”

“It is hard for business owners to invest in the long term, I see that many are investing in the short term in regards to overhead,” he said. “In my conversations with various businesses owners locally, people are not spending like they have in the past. There is job loss, and a fear of job loss. There is an overall sense of uncertainty at the moment.”

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