When pandemic disrupts spring prom plans, parents ponder what to do with money, prizes

Win-E-Mac junior Gavin Walker arranges some of the prom prizes that his class raised funds for, a school tradition, as his mom, Angie Walker looks on. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

At Win-E-Mac High School in Erskine, Minn., members of the junior class and their parents have raised more than $8,000 for a prom “after-party” that was scheduled for May 2.

It’s tradition here -- and at many area schools -- for the junior class to raise money for prom and after-prom parties for the junior and senior classes. With the incursion of the coronavirus, and subsequent disruption of prom events this spring, many are left wondering what to do with the cash they’ve raised and prizes they’ve stashed away for prom-night parties.

Thirty-six seniors, members of the Win-E-Mac school’s Class of ‘20, graduated Saturday, May 23. They did not get to attend a prom or an after-prom party, nor any of the other countless social, athletic and performing arts experiences that make the senior year so memorable.

Angie Walker is the mother of Gavin, 17, a junior at Win-E-Mac, which stands for Winger, Erskine and McIntosh, the communities that comprise the school district.

She’s part of a group of about 10 parent volunteers, whose children are juniors at the school, who’ve been spearheading the effort to raise funds for an after-prom party.


The fundraising effort, which started last fall, is parent led, not sponsored by the school, Walker said.

“A lot of fundraisers” are carried out over the course of the school year, she said, including during half-time at boys’ and girls’ home basketball games when a “Powerade” contest allows a $1 donor the opportunity to sink the ball from the three-point line. The Powerade beverage produce is given for each successful attempt.

“That brings $70 to $80 each night,” Walker said.

“On Sundays in the winter, we have a bingo night where we serve popcorn, pop and water, and a lot of elderly people get involved in and enjoy that,” Walker said.

With the cash collected, parents buy a wide assortment of items to use as prizes during the after-prom party. They watch for and snatch up bargains on TVs, Keurig coffee-makers, wireless headphones, computer printers, refrigerators and bedding for their college dorms.

Local businesses have been very generous, too, providing more than $4,000 of the total donations, said Bobbi Berberich DuChamp, whose son, Bryce, is a junior at Win-E-Mac.

“We started back on Black Friday; we bought TVs,” said DuChamp, explaining that she and other parents have been storing merchandise in their homes. “One mom has a room full of stuff. I have a bunch of cooler bags and other things. I’m ready to get this stuff out of my house.”

Keeping kids safe

The goal behind the prom after-party is to keep kids safe, to prevent prom night from turning into a nightmare, parents say.


"We don’t want kids to get in their cars and gather someplace where they wouldn’t be safe,” Walker said of that time around midnight when the seniors gather when the prom ends.

The idea is to offer students an event “that’s fun and has entertainment, food, prizes, cash and lots to do,” Walker said, “to continue the fun into the evening.”

On prom night, students bring a change of clothes -- to go from formal attire to casual, comfortable clothing -- so they can relax and have fun in a safe environment, she said.

Altered plans everywhere

At Central Valley School in Buxton, N.D., students begin raising money for prom in the seventh grade, said Principal Frank Justin.

“Almost all of this money is raised by working concessions at our athletic events in conjunction with our booster club,” Justin said. Most, but not all, of these funds are used to put on the prom.

The spring prom was recently canceled by the school board. Any money left over in class funds after a class graduates goes to scholarships offered through the school, he said.

At Central Valley, a committee of parent volunteers is in charge of and raises funds for the post-prom party. The group has decided to give the money to the 27 graduates since they were not able to have their post-prom party, Justin said.

Each graduate will receive an equal amount of money on a Visa gift card, he said.


At Northwood (N.D.) Public School, the prom had been scheduled for March 28.

The high school principal, Sarah Burger, said the event has not been canceled but decisions about how or if prom will be held have not yet been made. It may be rescheduled for sometime this summer, she said.

The Northwood and Hatton schools, as part of a cooperative, hold a prom for students from both schools, Burger said.

Back at Win-E-Mac High School, Walker said she and other volunteers have tentatively rescheduled the after-prom party for July 31. But they, and school officials, are waiting to see what Gov. Tim Walz hands down in the way of restrictions and guidelines in order to make a decision about prom by late June or early July.

“If prom doesn’t happen this summer, we’re still going to do something for these junior and seniors,” said Walker. “We’ll need to brainstorm and come up with a plan. This junior class has worked really hard to get this money.”

“We’re waiting for guidance from the governor,” said Principal Kevin McKeever. “We hated to cancel (prom) completely. It’s one of the important things in students’ lives.”

Because of COVID-19, “the kids missed out on the band and choir trip to Nashville, and the senior trip to Duluth, the senior scholarship banquet, the list goes on and on,” said McKeever. “We did an awards ceremony live over TV, but it’s not the same thing -- you can’t have the kids come up on stage.

“It’s a bad year for everybody,” he concluded. “It’s a bad year to be a senior.”


Pamela Knudson is a features and arts/entertainment writer for the Grand Forks Herald.

She has worked for the Herald since 2011 and has covered a wide variety of topics, including the latest performances in the region and health topics.

Pamela can be reached at or (701) 780-1107.
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