Horse-drawn carriage rides raise money for homeless shelter; organizers hope to make them an annual event

photo by: Contributed photo

Two horse-drawn carriages take passengers for a ride in downtown Lawrence on a recent afternoon. The carriages will be running during the last week of 2019, picking up passengers from 1 to 5 p.m. on Sunday and 4:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Monday at the valet parking area of the Eldridge Hotel, 701 Massachusetts St.

Horse-drawn carriage rides provided holiday cheer for Lawrence residents and a fundraising boost for the local homeless shelter.

Several local businesses, including McGrew Real Estate and the Eldridge Hotel, partnered to offer the carriage rides in downtown Lawrence to benefit the Lawrence Community Shelter. The homeless shelter has been struggling financially, and last year it had to reduce its capacity.

Organizers say the event has raised about $12,000 to date, with at least $8,100 going to the homeless shelter after expenses. Emily Willis Stewart, a McGrew associate broker and one of the organizers of the event, said she expected the contribution to the shelter to be closer to $9,000 once additional pledged donations are received.

“So I think we had a pretty good year for our first time,” Willis Stewart said. She said the event had 508 paying riders.

The carriage rides were offered for six dates beginning in mid-December. Organizers did not charge for the rides and instead suggested riders donate $8 per person or $30 for a family of four. Willis Stewart said that on the last day, they also offered free carriage rides.

The carriage route included a ride down Massachusetts Street, which is decorated with holiday lights for the season, and ended up being so popular that organizers extended the event beyond Christmas, as the Journal-World previously reported.

December had both a snowstorm and unseasonably warm days, and Willis Stewart said the number of riders ebbed and flowed along with the weather. She said being on hand as a volunteer on the cold days — even dressed in multiple layers with hot packs in her gloves — gave her even more appreciation of the people who do not have a place to stay.

“Standing in the cold for as many hours as we did, I’m 100% certain that everybody deserves a warm place to sleep no matter what their walk of life is,” Willis Stewart said. “I believe that every human should have that right.”

The Lawrence Community Shelter, 3655 E. 25th St., has been operating at a reduced capacity since August because of financial issues, and some homeless people have been forced to sleep outdoors as a result. Earlier last year, the shelter increased the required number of staff who work directly with guests from two to four people based on recommendations from a consultant hired by the City of Lawrence and Douglas County. The shelter subsequently requested a funding increase from both local governments, but that requested increase was not fully funded and the shelter decided to reduce capacity rather than go back to running at full capacity with only two staff members working directly with guests, as the Journal-World previously reported.

Willis Stewart said organizers plan to hold the carriage ride fundraiser again this year, and have already had some potential sponsors express interest in the event. She said organizers hope to grow the event and potentially begin offering the carriage rides sooner. Organizers will meet to discuss additional details of how the event will function in the future, but Willis Stewart said it would continue to be a fundraiser.


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