By Janet Wight
Como Friends, a nonprofit organization that supports the Como Zoo and Conservatory, invites members to spend a winter evening at the Conservatory for its Bouquets fundraiser, beginning at 7 p.m., Feb. 23.
Live music, food samples from local restaurants, along with beer and wine will add to the festive ambiance. This is a popular event with many members returning each year, said longtime Como Friends president Jackie Sticha recently.
General admission is $75, she said. Attendees also may choose to participate in an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour for an additional $25, according Sticha.
A free virtual option also is being offered with access to online content and the silent auction, although there is a suggested donation of $25.
Visit comofriends.org for information on how to buy tickets to the fundraiser and join the nonprofit.
Como Friends supports the Zoo and Conservatory by raising funds from a broad base of loyal donors. It was established in 2000 as the result of a merger of four nonprofit organizations.
The Bugle recently spoke with Sticha to learn more about membership, special events and the wide-ranging impact of Como Friends fundraising. And, the Bouquets event is one of those special events.
Backed by 5,500 individual donors (including more than 225 living in the 55108 Zip code area) as well as corporations and foundations, the Friends has donated $48 million to the Zoo and Conservatory since its inception, Sticha said.
Fortunately, the Friends did not experience a decrease in support during the pandemic, Sticha said. She noted that all donor categories maintained their previous levels of generosity and donations have remained stable.
In recent years, the Friends has provided between $1.7 million and $2 million per year to the Zoo and Conservatory, she said.
Donations have supported major capital improvements (including Polar Bear Odyssey and Como Harbor), expanded educational and conservation programs and the continuation of free zoo admission, Sticha said.
“A donation to Como of any amount has an immediate and great impact at the Zoo and Conservatory,” she said.
Special events are held as a way to thank donors and build community, she said. Participants will often have the opportunity to connect with a zookeeper or horticulturist. Behind-the-scenes tours or up-close experiences with animals or in the gardens are some of the highlights of these member-only occasions.
Beside this month’s event, Sticha described two other fundraising events that are hosted by the Friends each year:
Como Quest, a new event introduced in 2022, will be held again this year, on June 3-4. This family-friendly adventure, suitable for all ages, features a smartphone app that enables groups to participate in an educational treasure hunt throughout the expansive grounds.
Sunset Affair, a casual gala that takes place in July, allows members to experience a variety of programs and activities. Guests also have the opportunity to interact with animal ambassadors and enjoy outdoor dining.
Other advantages are offered to members. Gift shop and educational program discounts are popular perks. Additionally, many zoos and gardens across the country offer reciprocity with free or reduced admission for Como Friends members, she added.
The Zoo and Conservatory remain free and open to the public 365 days per year.
Janet Wight lives in the Como neighborhood and is a regular freelance writer for the Bugle.