Many legal nonprofits have postponed spring fundraisers due to the coronavirus pandemic, but the Atlanta Legal Aid Society has found a way to hold its Great Whiskey Debate virtually.

The popular event, scheduled for May 14, is an important fundraiser for Atlanta Legal Aid. Last year, it raised $20,000 from about 200 attendees at the Historic DeKalb Courthouse, plus sponsors, said Shea Conlan, the group’s development and communications coordinator.

“We are recognizing that we still may be social-distancing in May—and it’s hard to get people to buy tickets or sponsorships for a live event right now,” said Conlan, who came up with the idea for the virtual event.

Ordinarily, bartenders from several Decatur bars and restaurants create custom cocktails for the Great Whiskey Debate and then attendees taste the cocktails and vote for their favorite, while noshing on hors d’oeuvres and mingling with friends.

There won’t be any mingling this year, Conlan said, but the event, now dubbed the Great Virtual Whiskey Debate is still happening on May 14. For the price of a $60 ticket, each participant will get a kit with a special cocktail glass, airplane bottles of liquor, other ingredients and instructions from the bartenders on how to make their cocktail creations. The kit also will include marketing materials from sponsors.

Conlan said the aim is to have three custom cocktails for people to vote on, and Atlanta Legal Aid is still working with Decatur bars and restaurants on the recipes. Each participant will get ingredients for all of the cocktails in their respective kit.

The group will likely establish a sanitary pick-up location for the kits and possibly do some deliveries. “We are in logistics mode right now,” she said.

For the event itself, Atlanta Legal Aid will set up video livestreams and provide videos of the bartenders demonstrating how to make the cocktails. The planners also will provide a recipe instruction card in each kit. People will be able to vote online for their top choice.

“It’s a way to still be social and connect with our community at a time when we have to be physically apart,” Conlan said.

Conlan said response to the virtual event has been good. So far, Atlanta Legal Aid has sold about 50 tickets, and she anticipates more sales in the next few weeks. “People seem excited about it,” she said, adding that some of the group’s staff who usually don’t attend, because they have young children or they don’t like crowds, have said they will come. 

“Legal aid services are more important than ever during this pandemic,” Conlan said. Atlanta Legal Aid is anticipating more people facing evictions and foreclosures after the current moratorium expires, she said, and there could be an uptick in domestic violence instances, because people are isolated with their abusers.

The virtual event, she said, is “a great way for people to contribute to a good cause and have some fun at home.”


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