GRAND RAPIDS, Mich — Pulaski Days 2020 is canceled this year due to COVID-19.
The week-long celebration of Polish-Lithuanian culture has happened every fall in Grand Rapids since 1973 -- this is the first time in the event's history that it's been canceled, according to Michelle Kershner, a chairperson of the Pulaski Days Committee.
“It was an extremely difficult decision to cancel Pulaski Days this year,” Kershner said. “Many people were looking forward to listening and dancing to the top-notch polka bands that we bring to town and sampling the authentic Polish food served at the halls. The halls are terribly disappointed too, because Pulaski Days is their single largest source of revenue.
“But after a lot of debate over several meetings, we made the tough decision to cancel because we couldn’t determine how to hold an event that drew more than 300,000 people last year and ensure that everyone would be safe from spreading COVID-19.”
The committee coordinates the efforts of 14 Polish and Lithuanian halls and fraternal organizations that fund, and put on, the celebration.
In past years, the week-long event included a flag raising ceremony, parade, golf outing, coronation of the Pulaski Days queen, kielbasa eating contest, Polka Mass and three days of music and food at the halls. Visitors from Wisconsin, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and other states have made the trip here just to participate.
The need for masks at close quarters indoors and social distancing requirements runs counter to everything that makes Pulaski Days such a popular event, Kreshner said.
“The heart of Pulaski Days is to be social – eat, dance and get together with family and old friends, and make new friends,” Kershner said. “Now, how are you going to do that standing 6 feet from someone with your mask on?”
The cancellation of Pulaski Days is more than just a disappointment for Polish-Lithuanian halls and fraternal organizations, said Jim Seppala, president of Diamond Avenue Hall - St. Isidore's Benevolent Aid Society, 435 Diamond Ave NE.
“We depend on Pulaski Days as a major source of our annual operating budget,” Seppala said. “We run a tight ship financially, but no matter how you cut it, we are going to feel the pinch that the event isn’t being held this year."
“Regardless, we know that we are doing the right thing. We have to make sure that our volunteers and visitors remain healthy during this pandemic.”
Helen Szubinski was set to be the grand marshal of the parade this year. She and her family have been playing music at the festival for more than 30 years.
"It's such a let down because all these years, every year I look forward to the Pulaski weekend," says Szubinski.
Her daughter, Kathy Swain, fears for the future of the halls that host the event.
"I'm worried that some of these halls may not make it through," says Swain. "They expect to have that money because it takes them through the whole year."
The committee said in a release Friday that the halls are working hard to make up revenue that will be lost from the cancellation of Pulaski Days. No one knows if their efforts will be enough to sustain them.
So, the Pulaski Days Committee has launched the "Save the Halls" campaign to help raise money to help organizations make it through to Pulaski Days 2021.
Along with a number of other halls in Grand Rapids, Diamond Avenue Hall is working to restore some of the revenue lost from Pulaski Days through other COVID-safe promotions. The hall will be holding a drive-through service where customers could pick up combo plates of Polish food, tee shirts, can koozies and other items without leaving their cars on Saturday, Aug. 22.
While the halls are making a valiant effort to keep afloat, they will need additional help to make sure they can keep their doors open and host Pulaski Days 2021, Kershner said.
“Many of the halls have been in continuous operation for more than a century -- for instance, Diamond Avenue Hall was established in 1892,” she said. “We have to make sure that they’ll remain strong for generations to come.”
To help, the Pulaski Days Committee is asking that people buy pins and Polish shields at local businesses such as Sobie Meats, 3450 Remembrance Rd NW and Lewandoski Meats, 1107 Walker Ave NW. The committee also is asking for charitable contributions to the Save The Halls campaign. All of the money collected will be split equally among all of the halls, Kershner said.
Contributions to Save the Halls can be made in person at the Grand Rapids branch of Credit Union ONE, 1609 Walker Ave. NW, and online on the Pulaski Days Committee website, where there is a PayPal button for the Save The Halls campaign.
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