Members of the Wyandotte Goodfellows thank the owners of Biddle Bowl for their contribution of $10,000 to the Goodfellows, who called it an amazing fete during the COVID-19 global pandemic. Photo courtesy of the Woelkers family

Biddle Bowl owners use business to raise more than $10,000

Dave Gorgon

For years, the operators of Biddle Bowl have been celebrated for raising funds for the Wyandotte Goodfellows, helping the group bring Christmas to children and families.

In 2020, the year of the COVID-19 global pandemic, the same family that owns the eight-lane bowling establishment in Wyandotte went above and beyond the call of duty.

Robert Woelkers of Riverview and sister Judy Sadler of Trenton and their family members and friends combined to raise more than $10,000 for the Goodfellows in a year that the charity’s volunteers were wondering how they were going to raise any funds because of the coronavirus.

Todd Browning, treasurer of the Goodfellows and city treasurer in Wyandotte, said the pandemic forced the cancellation of a number of annual fundraising efforts in 2020, which raised concerns about how to pay the Christmas gift-giving bills.

The Wyandotte Street Art Fair was cancelled so the Goodfellows could not raise money by “selling” parking lot spots for $5 apiece – the biggest of the fundraisers.

The famous newspaper sales on city street corner could not be held. Instead, newspapers were placed in various businesses locations with the hopes that people would take one and leave a donation if they could find them.

With the closure of so many businesses, including bowling centers, due to the concerns surrounding COVID-19, Biddle Bowl was unable to engage its giving league bowlers through 50/50 drawings, prize raffles and other donations throughout the bowling week, plus an annual Christmas fundraiser at the establishment.

For the past 14 years, bowlers have contributed to the cause, starting with $900 in 2007 and increasing the amount to $7,000 the past couple of years.

“We were afraid that it might be all that we would raise this year due to our closing from COVID-19, but we were shocked,” Woelkers said.

Without the in-house contests to provide the money, Woelkers and company decided to collect returnable cans and bottles – more than 60,000 in all.

They hit social media and asked bowlers and other Facebook followers to donate the returnables at a time when stores were not accepting cans and bottles due to the pandemic. For months, they stored the 10-cent containers one by one wherever they could find space – in their garages, under the Woelkers deck at home and in a large storage area donated by Biddle Bowl business neighbor Bentley Banquet Center.

When stores began accepting the returnable containers again, Woelkers, his wife Valarie and Sadler made countless trips to the Meijer store in Taylor, the Kroger store in Southgate and a couple other places.

Woelkers said their plea for returnables also generated two checks worth more than $2,000 from “angels” Susan Lapage and Tim Collins.

As a result, the Biddle Bowl team was able to present two checks to the Goodfellows totaling more than $10,000 for the year 2020: one in July for $3,500 and a second in December for a second check for more than $6,500.

Browning said the funds and others raised by area businesses and individuals will be used to provide “no child without a Christmas” gifts for 2021.

“Even we can’t believe it,” Woelkers said. “We would like to thank all our customers, family, friends and friends of friends who without their help this would not be possible. We are going to continue collecting returnables during 2021 that can be dropped off any time in our storage containers at the side of our building on Labadie Street at 708 Biddle Avenue in Wyandotte.”

The family also thanked management at The Bentley for providing storage along with operators of Shoppers Valley, Discount Drinks and Mac’s Liquor for supplying boxes to use to collect the cans and bottles.

Woelkers said Goodfellows is Biddle Bowl’s charity of choice because of Ray Walters Jr., who bowled in a Monday night league for 30 years. Walters owned a hobby shop and brought in a giant stuffed animal to raffle off at the bowling center with all proceeds going to Goodfellows.

“My sister said, ‘we could help out here.’” Woelkers said. “We have a good customer base.

“We have always thought Goodfellows was a great local cause. Our experience has been good. They don’t hold back any money. They’re all volunteers. It just seems like a local cause. Because of that, we felt it was important.”

Browning said the Wyandotte Goodfellows were able to help 68 families and 197 children at Christmastime 2020. The Treasurer thanked all of the local businesses and individuals who contributed during what has been a challenging year.

“We are not as far off from where we were last year,” said Browning, who has been involved in Goodfellows for 17 years. “Lo and behold, Wyandotte and the local community stepped up.

“Rob and Judy and their dad (Bob) have been extremely supportive. They’re the best cheerleaders that Wyandotte and the Wyandotte Goodfellows have. They support the community in which they run their business.

“The only word I can say is ‘wow!’”

Also important: the ability for Biddle Bowl to reopen. At first, Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced bowling centers, movie theaters and other entertainment venues could open for limited participation to help control the rise of coronavirus cases. Rob Woelkers said bowlers are wearing masks and the bar is unable to open so far.

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