Every day, I get asked how the COVID-19 virus is affecting the nonprofit organization Operation: Cigars for Warriors (CFW). Like you, CFW has also been greatly affected. There are, of course, the obvious negatives—a lot of them—but, surprisingly, there have been a few positives. Saying there have been a few positives does not mean we have any love for the virus at all; it just means that we have to do our best and make the best out of the worst of situations.
As you can imagine, our donations have greatly dropped off compared to what we typically receive during the months of March through June. These months are typically the charity’s biggest months for donations, mainly because of all the great festivals and major events that support CFW. Yet the requests from our valuable troops have not dropped off—if anything, they have grown.
Another area where CFW is hurting is in our donation center program. Our primary donation centers are cigar retail shops. This global disaster has greatly affected all of our retailers throughout the country. Some have been allowed to remain open but usually with a drive-up service only. As you can imagine, there are not a lot of donations being dropped off right now. In normal times, many of our donation centers host events once a month, and CFW can collect even more donations during them. Sadly, the shops probably will not hold any cigar events for a while, at least in the majority of states.
We are also lacking in volunteers. We have had some get sick or have their family members getting sick—and we have even lost one of our own. Matt Hull was a huge loss, not only to CFW but to everyone that he came into contact with. Matt was one of those rare people who had not one area of expertise but multiple areas of expertise. Even rarer for someone with his talents and intelligence was that he also had a very high EQ (emotional quotient or emotional intelligence)—which basically means that he was a very personable person who everyone gravitated toward. He will be sorely missed by all.
Whether healthy or not, our event coordinators have not been able to do their normal jobs. Even if they were to just make calls from home, most of the locations they would call upon would not be open or have anything for them to do. Knowing the quality of volunteers we have, I have no doubt that they would love to assist these great retail stores in any way possible, but sadly they are very limited as far as what they can do.
With all the negatives that the COVID-19 virus has afflicted onto CFW, there have also been some positives. Our past senior vice chairman, Justin Tronsco, stepped down after eight years of being with the charity, the last five years of which he served as senior vice chairman. He was good enough to give us a six-month heads-up that he would leave CFW. Justin’s job and family life was beginning to take up even greater time than in the past, and this is very normal for many volunteers for any charity organization. While this seems to be a negative.—and it was, as he was a valuable part of the team—the timing of the virus gave us that valuable time to transition to a new senior vice chairman. CFW is blessed that Trey Boring has graciously agreed to become our new senior vice chairman. Justin and Trey were able to conduct a very smooth transition that just would not have been nearly as effective if it were not for the pandemic.
Additionally, the timeline of COVID-19 gave the Internal Operations Committee (IOC) the valuable time it needed to improve its organization. The IOC is our largest committee by far, and it is the most critical to the continued success of CFW. CFW has always been known for its flexibility, and now, because of the IOC, this attribute has been greatly improved. The problem has been that it is a fairly new committee, with new members who have new areas of responsibility. That is where the positive side of the virus has come into play. It has given the board of directors a chance to solidify the committee, time to fix a lot of the holes, and the chance to test certain standard operating procedures and adjust fire accordingly.
Most people do not understand that since the inception of CFW, the organization has gone from what the original founders thought would be a hobby that required three to five hours of work a month to a charity that requires more than half of the founders to work 30 hours or more every week—almost overnight. Most of them thought that this extreme amount of work would dissipate over time, but instead the demands became greater. As Ben Edmundson, our original treasurer, once said, “These last four years [have] been like drinking water out of a fire hose.”