Sudan conflict inspires local to host auction

Paul Thissen

Evanston resident Kelly Grotke already was fed up with the continued violence in the Darfur region of Sudan in July, when the conflict was just beginning to garner media attention. She already had sent mail to her representatives and decided to take action.

Grotke organized the Code Blue: Darfur fund-raising project with the aim of raising $10,000 in October for Doctors Without Borders, a medical aid group, in the Darfur region of Sudan, an African country to the south of Egypt.

More than 1.5 million residents have been displaced in Darfur and 70,000 have been killed by a government-sponsored militia called the Janjaweed. Most deaths are from hunger and disease. U.S. officials have termed the ethnic conflict genocide.

The culmination of Code Blue: Darfur will be a charity auction tonight at 6:30 p.m. at the Lake Street Church, 1458 Chicago Ave. Items donated by local businesses worth more than $5,000 will be auctioned, including furniture, jewelry, oriental rugs, music lessons and a massage. So far, the group has raised more than $2,000.

“The response has been wonderful,” Grotke said. “The businesses have been very generous.”

The project also enlists the support of local businesses to spread word of the crisis. Participating stores, mostly near the intersection of Main Street and Chicago Avenue, display posters in their windows about the crisis and fund-raising efforts. Many have collection tins at their counters. The group also hosted a presentation from a Doctors Without Borders representative at the Hemenway United Methodist Church, 933 Chicago Ave., earlier this month.

The owners of British Collectibles, 917 Chicago Ave., and Cross-Rhodes Restaurant, 913 Chicago Ave., said they donated goods to the auction because of the severity of the crisis and their personal connections to the Old Town Evanston association, a business group that helped put the project together.

“It’s a bit obvious it’s a tragedy,” said Kevin Pearson, owner of British Collectibles, explaining why he donated items to the auction.

Recruiting businesses for a political or charitable cause is an unusual technique, according to some.

“I haven’t seen business come together for something of this nature,” said Mike Pyle, owner of an Allstate Insurance agency at 809 Chicago Ave., which has both a poster and collection can. “It’s a fantastic idea … for them to get as far as they have says something about the level of commitment.”

Organizing a fund-raising drive in such a short period of time has been a challenge, Grotke said. She could not even open a bank account for the group because requirements in the USA Patriot Act prevent new organizations from opening accounts without extensive approval.

Several prominent figures, including University President Henry Bienen and Ald. Steve Bernstein (4th), have signed on as honorary chairmen of the program, which Grotke said has helped to attract donations.

Beyond the auction and collection cups, some individuals have mailed in donation checks. The collection tin at Chicago-Main Newsstand, 860 Chicago Ave., alone has collected between $50 and $70.

“We live in a country where you take a lot for granted,” Pyle said. “I think it’s a great cause.”

Reach Paul Thissen at [email protected]