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CASA GRANDE — The COVID-19 pandemic may have temporarily slowed fundraising by Pinal 40 for Pinal County youth activities last year but the organization is hoping to hit a cumulative total of a million dollars distributed to groups, youth scholarships and community grants in the spring.

The 40-member organization started in 2014 when a group of local people who wanted to give back to the community came together to help the county’s youths by fundraising and offering grants and scholarships to various county youth programs, said Bobby Wuertz, a member. Those who created Pinal 40 noticed that numerous cities across the state and in the Valley had volunteer organizations that helped raise funds for youth programs, but there was nothing like that in Pinal County and so they decided to start their own.

There are only a few conditions to becoming a member of Pinal 40. First, a member must be someone who cares and wants to help the community. Second, they have to be invited.

Membership in the group is capped at 40 people, Wuertz said. New members are invited to join when an existing member retires or has to leave the group because they’re moving or for other reasons. All of the members volunteer their time, he said.

Pinal 40 holds two fundraisers a year, a gala in the spring and a golf tournament, he said. The organization’s first fundraiser was held in 2015 in conjunction with McMashers Sports Bar & Grill.

That spring fundraiser later became the Pinal 40 Gala Reception & Dinner, which includes recognition of local leaders, a live auction and usually a special guest, Wuertz said. In 2019, the guest was Larry the Cable Guy. This year the guest is country singer Sara Evans. This year’s gala is in November.

Last year, the organization was unable to hold the gala because the event is usually held indoors and concerns about the spread of COVID-19 discouraged indoor events. However, Pinal 40 was able to hold its annual Golf Classic. This year’s Pinal 40 Golf Classic is expected to be held in early October.

The money collected at the events goes to a variety of programs that help support Pinal County youth and county youth programs, Wuertz said.

The organization offers scholarships for county students who are looking to continue their education in a field supporting agriculture, such as agriculture business and management, veterinary science, crop production and bioengineering.

Since 2015, Pinal 40 has distributed $314,500 in scholarships to Pinal County youths.

It has also donated $230,000 to the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Sun Corridor over the last five years, which has helped the organization open new clubs in wester Pinal County.

Pinal 40 also offers community grants to organizations that provide youth programs such as Special Olympics, FFA, Seeds of Hope, the Boy Scouts, 4-H and others. Since 2015, the organization has distributed $119,700 in grants to Pinal County youth organizations.

All of the funds raised by Pinal 40 stay in the county and go to county youth and county youth programs, Wuertz said. Since 2015, the organization has distributed a total of $872,211 and it is on track to hopefully reach the $1 million mark in the spring of 2022.

Wuertz said the members of Pinal 40 have been excited to get back to work and raise more funds for Pinal County youths.

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Suzanne Adams-Ockrassa is a reporter covering the city of Casa Grande and the surrounding area, as well as Central Arizona College. She can be reached at sadams@pinalcentral.com.