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When you think of shelter or rescue fundraisers, events like galas, community dog walks, and grooming events probably come to mind—but roller derby?
The idea emerged from a conversation between two skaters—Katie Ames and Madison Black—in the Springfield Queen City Roller Derby, a Missouri-based league with about 40 members. Ames is the manager of Castaway Animal Rescue Effort’s (CARE) Ozark adoption center.
“Each of our [roller derby] bouts, we pick a local charity, and we have raffles, we do some sort of thing for them,” Ames says. “We had a bout coming up in March, and [Madison] said, ‘I really wish we could do it for CARE.’ She kind of had the idea, and we talked about it, and I said, ‘Well, we’ve gotta make this happen.’”
Ames discussed the idea with her supervisor at CARE and Susan Venker, the shelter’s public relations coordinator, pitching it as a creative event that would benefit both organizations—garnering exposure for the league, and both funds and adoptions for CARE.
The suggestion by Ames caught Venker a little off guard. “My first reaction was a little hesitant, because I was like, ‘I’ve never even heard of doing something like this before, so what if it doesn’t go well?’”
But she recognized the hearts of gold behind the wheels of steel. “I’d never really seen roller derby before, but those girls are tough, and they have no problem shoving each other around in the rink. But they also have a really big soft spot for animals, so they wanted to do the fundraiser for us,” Venker says.
Everyone agreed to try it, and that’s how the March event (dubbed CARE for a Pounding, owing to the sport’s smashmouth reputation) came to be.Ames and Black, who both skate on the Queen Bees team, and other league members asked area merchants to donate gift certificates to use as prizes in a raffle for the event. They also came up with a flier to advertise the bout. Venker sent a press release to local media, and talked to radio stations about the event. “A lot of times if I send out a press release, I don’t really get a response, but with this, I had like five different media interviews, which was awesome,” Venker says. She recalls doing four interviews before the event and one during the bout, and two TV stations showed up to cover the fundraiser.
“I wanted to just mesh two different worlds, if you will. And it worked!” says Ames, who’s known in the league as “Renegade Roxie.” (“Each person has a roller derby name; they kind of have a persona,” she says. “[Madison’s] roller derby name is ‘Zom B Bar B.’ She’s just like a 5-foot, tiny little girl, and she’s very Barbie-looking—it’s awesome.”)
All the efforts to get the word out paid off: The event attracted about 400 people, one of the league’s largest crowds ever. In addition to raising money through ticket sales, organizers asked people to bring either monetary donations or shelter supplies for CARE, and receive a raffle ticket in exchange. At the end of the evening, it took four cars to carry all the donated items back to CARE, including big bags of pet food, cat litter, treats, and cleaning supplies.
A beer garden enlivened the atmosphere, and at halftime, skaters circled the rink, cradling some of the adoptable pets brought from CARE, talking to people about each one. Five pets were adopted that night, three of whom went home with skaters, and the event raised about $800 for CARE.
“It definitely exceeded my expectations. I think the Queen City Roller Derby wants to do this event again next year,” Venker says. “They’re a rough-and-tumble group, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t love animals, too.”