The recent surge in coronavirus infections and fatalities nationwide has kept nearly all of the Buddhist Churches of America’s temples and churches closed — with few exceptions — and most don’t have a firm date of when they’ll reopen, according to a special July 26 meeting of the BCA Executive Committee.
But, as a direct result of the pandemic, Sangha members and ministers have been creative and innovative in coming up with ways to recoup the revenue lost because of the shutdown — including holding virtual Obons, donation drives, online festivals, sponsorships, and sales of food, produce and crafts. A donation button on temple websites and Facebook has helped, too.
The “big hitter” — the standout of a wildly successful fundraiser — was the San Jose Betsuin’s virtual Obon@Home on July 11, according to John Arima of the Mountain View Buddhist Temple and Coast District representative.
San Jose’s Obon@Home has raised more than $197,500 as of Aug. 2 from more than 600 people through a GoFundMe campaign, smashing its goal of $150,000. For more information, go to: https://charity.gofundme.com/o/en/campaign/obon-giving.
And two more notable fundraising events are on the horizon in Sacramento and in Portland.
The Buddhist Church of Sacramento held a five-hour virtual telethon on Aug. 8 with special guests such as: U.S. Rep. Doris Matsui; Revs. Bob and Patti Oshita, retired Sacramento ministers and chaplains to the California State Legislature; BCA Bishop Rev. Marvin Harada; Rev. Kosho Yukawa, retired Sacramento minister; and Satsuki Ina, the writer and activist.
It also featured bonsai, ikebana floral arrangements, calligraphy, taiko and cooking demonstrations, and vocal and instrumental performances.
The Jr. YBA chapter came up with T-shirts, aprons and stickers that have already raised $13,000, said Koichi Mizushima, youth director of the Center for Buddhist Education and minister’s assistant at Sacramento.
“It’s been a really, really fun event and a way to reconnect with our Sangha,” Mizushima said. For more information about the telethon, go to: https://www.buddhistchurch.org/internal-event/bazaar-2020-home-edition.
And the Oregon Buddhist Temple has raised $50,000 in pre-concert donations for its Aug. 21 Zoom benefit, “In the Spirit of Giving: An Evening of Music With OBT.” There will be seven acts featuring Sangha performers. Donations will be solicited during the event, PayPal and Venmo accounts have been set up, and pledges are accepted via Facebook Messenger. For more information about the concert, go to: https://www.oregonbuddhisttemple.com/benefit-concert.
Meanwhile, the temples and churches will not be reopening in the foreseeable future because of the resurgence of COVID-19.
“We’re going to be in flux for quite a while,” said Bay District representative Jeff Kawahara, noting that the entire Bay Area is currently under state COVID-19 watch.
Rev. Erick Ishii of the Eastern District said the Ekoji Buddhist Temple in Fairfax Station, Va., has had an in-service Obon service on July 12 and intends to hold one in-service session each month. He said the temple adheres to strict precautions: people have to pre-register and fill out a questionnaire saying they are not sick, don’t have a fever and have not been exposed to COVID-19. In addition, masks are required, social distancing is practiced, and there is no chanting, singing or conducting oshoko.
A total of 15 people attended the Obon service, Rev. Ishii said.
Seabrook Buddhist Temple began drive-in services on May 24 in which people drive up in their cars and the service is conducted via a FM transmitter similar to drive-in theatres. He said about 15 to 18 people have been coming.
In addition, in-person services have been held at the Las Vegas Sangha, according to Rev. Harada.
The nearly 140 participants in the Zoom meeting were polled on three questions: the current state of their church or temple; the status of the church of planning to reopen; and church or temple plans in the wake of revenue loss because of festivals being cancelled.
Some of the poll results were:
• 41% of churches and temples were completely closed;
• 68% were open for staff and specific volunteers;
• 66% conducted maintenance;
• 74% have established a planning committee, and 65% said planning is in progress;
• 79% are soliciting donations;
• 50% have made budget adjustments; and
• 51% have applied for federal PPP (Paycheck Protection Loan) or other financial assistance.
Several temples reported successes with fundraising, including the Seattle Betsuin Buddhist Temple, Mountain View Buddhist Temple, Tri-State/Denver Buddhist Temple, and Buddhist Temple of San Diego.
The San Mateo Buddhist Temple held a June 27 event titled “What Does Bazaar Mean to You?” Rev. Henry Adams conducted live interviews with Sangha members that explored the bazaar’s history, preparation, significance, meaning for children, and its many foods.
Mountain View held a two-day Obon on July 18-19 called “Obon at Home,” and it featured cooking and cultural demonstrations, a taiko performance and fashion show, and of course, Bon Odori. There was also a bingo game for Sangha members only. Arima said the temple was still assessing how much it had raised from the event.
The Seattle Betsuin held its virtual Bon Odori on July 18 with sponsorship levels for various segments and levels of giving. Each of the 10 dances was sponsored.
The Buddhist Temple of San Diego sold 100 boxes of produce — and 75 trays of strawberries — from the renowned Yasukochi Family Farms in Oceanside on July 25. Ralph Honda called the fundraising drive “very successful.”
But San Jose stood out among the fundraisers. The GoFundMe’s success was tied to the virtual Obon’s “In Memory Of” donation campaign.
“Giving ‘In Memory Of’ really puts things in perspective,” said San Jose Betsuin President Ed Nodohara. “It’s your parents, the generations that came before us that showed us how Obon works and how to live our lives, and to donate in their memory is really wonderful.”
The eight-hour event, carried on Facebook Live, was viewed by 13,000 people and had 700 additional followers on Instagram, Nodohara said. And more than 50% of the viewers were from outside of the San Jose area, San Jose Betsuin Rinban Rev. Gerald Sakamoto said.
“It was a wonderful way to reconnect and I think that’s really important that whatever we can do to offer a way for people to connect with friends, with activities, with the temple,” Rev. Sakamoto said. “It’s not just, ‘How do we get revenue?’ It’s also how we engage people, and how we include people in our activities.”
Arima pointed out the Watsonville Buddhist Temple as an example of a small temple that has had success in raising funds. Watsonville, he said, analyzed its finances and targeted a legacy fund donation drive within the Sangha. As a result, it has been able to recoup a large portion of the revenue shortfall for the year.
“Everybody has got to think about what’s right for their situation and their circumstance,” Arima said.
“I’d like to commend many of the temples for coming up with creative ideas for fundraising like San Jose and Sacramento,” Rev. Harada said. “I know we’ll continue to adjust and adapt because that’s what we do — we make the most of the situation and we move forward. And we can always keep sight of why we’re doing this — to share the Dharma.
“We’re not just maintaining our temples — we want to continue to share the Dharma, to share the teachings and that’s why we put our time and effort into fundraising, into maintaining our temples and to keeping our services, Dharma talks and classes going because the Dharma has come to us from generations and generations in the past. And it’s now our responsibility to keep it going forward.”