Putting the Fun Into Fundraising

Celebrating its 30th and final year this season, Como Friends’ ZooBoo helped build a generation of great improvements at Como Park Zoo and Conservatory

With more than 1,500 volunteers every year, community support is critical at Como. That’s especially true during Como Friends’ ZooBoo, the family fundraiser that’s become a seasonal ritual for the nearly 800 volunteers who bring the event to life.

Following the event’s 30-year anniversary in October, Como Friends will bring this campus-wide fundraiser to a close in order to create room for an exciting new Seals and Sea Lions renovation project about to break ground later this fall. But before we say farewell to one of Minnesota’s longest-running charity benefits, here’s a look back at all that ZooBoo built at Como.

Did You Know?

  • St. Paul’s then mayor George Latimer climbed to the top of Como Zoo’s Seal Island in 1988 to welcome a host of Halloween costume-clad kids to ZooBoo, the very first family fundraiser to benefit Como Park Zoo and Conservatory.
  • ZooBoo is one of the longest-running fundraisers of any nonprofit organization in the state, and has raised more than $1 million to benefit Como Park Zoo and Conservatory.
  • The very first ZooBoo welcomed fewer than 2,000 trick-or-treaters. Today, the event welcomes an average of 25,000 visitors each year.

“In a lot of ways, Como Friends got its start with the success of ZooBoo,” says Como Friends President Jackie Sticha. While the event started more than a decade before the nonprofit merger that created Como Friends, she says, “it proved the value of bringing the community together to celebrate and support the things we all love about Como, and it made it clear that there was a real wellspring of civic pride about the Zoo and Conservatory, and for doing more as a community to support it.”

Staged in just six weeks by a team of friends and board members of what was then the Como Zoological  Society, the event has gone on to become one of the longest-running charitable events in the state. “The first meeting was just a meeting to discuss it –but then that same meeting became the committee that started the event,” says Terri Scheunemann, a ZooBoo co-founder, and manager of Como Friends’ Garden Safari Gift Shop. “We realized that if we waited until a board approval at the next meeting it would be too late to have the event in 1988, so we ran with it.”

Since then, the event has raised more than a million dollars to benefit Minnesota’s most visited cultural destination. And it’s made even more memories for Minnesota families, many of whom  regard the Halloween-themed event as an October ritual they’d never miss.

“We hear very regularly that the parents of today came through ZooBoo when they were kids,” says Phill Goldman, a long-time ZooBoo volunteer. “They even recognize some of the timeless costumed characters and sets from years ago.  With 30 years under our belt I suppose that’s expected, but it points out just how much connection our guests really have with the event.”

For many of ZooBoo’s most devoted volunteers, the mishaps that are an inevitable part of staging an event for 20,000 young visitors have been a big part of the fun, says Wendy Armitage, one of the event’s co-founders. “Following the Halloween Snowstorm of 1991, our props were buried under 28 inches of snow,” she says. “Needless to say, they did not get put away that year until spring thaw.”

Andre Klingenmeyer remembers the year Como Friends secured 1,500 donated granola bars–only to have 15,000 delivered instead. Several years ago, a duck made the mistake of landing in the seal pool, and was nearly made into dinner by a hungry sea lion–a moment that reminded ZooBoo families about how the food chain really works.

First created for Gen X kids who came of age with MTV and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the event steadily evolved to capture the imaginations of Millennials and their parents–who applauded the event’s move toward healthier treat options and interactive games and activity stations. While the Gen Z kids ZooBoo welcomes now are still thrilled to snap selfies with the likes of Han Solo and Scooby Doo, creating an event that highlights the everyday heroes who help the environment has also become a growing interest among Como Friends volunteers and visitors. Now as a team of Baby Boomer event volunteers get ready to pass the baton to the next generation of Como supporters, many have memories and friendships they will treasure for a lifetime.

“As we approached the 30th anniversary of this event, it seemed like the right time to celebrate what we accomplished with ZooBoo, and to create a fundraising event that can continue to do good for the next 30 years,” says Scheunemann. “We’re all a little sad to be saying goodbye to an event that’s been such a big part of our lives, and that’s helped benefit Como in such a big way, but we’re also looking forward to seeing what comes next.”

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