Taste of Randolph in West Loop on June 16, 2023. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

WEST LOOP — A West Loop community group is under fire after a nonprofit says it was used to boost profits for a fundraiser — though it was never involved in event planning or given a clear explanation of how their charity would benefit.

Face the Future Foundation, a Chicago-based nonprofit that raises money to treat children with craniofacial anomalies, was promoted in social media posts as a beneficiary of proceeds donated to Taste of Randolph, a popular West Loop street fest.

Taste of Randolph is an annual street festival hosted by the West Loop Community Organization (WLCO). Produced by Star Events, the fest is the biggest annual fundraiser for the neighborhood group.

A board member with Face the Future, who asked that their name not be used, said a Block Club Chicago article about Taste of Randolph led them to find out that Face the Future was a beneficiary of the festival. The article revealed the organizers were selling tickets to the street festival online, which is against city rules.

Posts by WLCO and its president, Julie Darling, on Facebook promoting Taste of Randolph stated “your $10 donation pays for talent, Face the Future (children with cleft palates) and added security” and that part of the $10 “suggested donation” goes towards “paying for talent and a donation for kids with a horrible facial disfigurement.” 

After speaking with representatives of Star Events, the foundation board member then found out the charity would not actually receive a portion of the proceeds, but just a one-time donation from the event producer.

Face the Future has since also received a donation from WLCO, but is now returning both donations from WLCO and Star Events citing concerns with how the money was collected. The charity received a $1,000 donation from Star Events and a $1,000 donation from WLCO.

A statement from Face the Future to Julie Darling, president of WLCO, explained why the nonprofit is returning its $1,000 donation.

“West Loop Community Organization and/or Star Events stated in social media that Face the Future Foundation would be a recipient of a portion of ticket sales and entrance gate proceeds from Taste of Randolph. The board of Face the Future Foundation did not approve this tactic and we do not wish to be involved in activity that may violate City of Chicago policy,” the statement said.

The posts regarding the festival were made by WLCO and Darling on both official and personal Facebook accounts. 

Comments from West Loop Community Organization regarding donations to Face the Future. Credit: Melody Mercado/Block Club Chicago

The board member contacted Star Events for more information since Michelle Krage, the company’s president, is also a member of Face the Future’s board.

Krage told the board member the festival was looking to work with a nonprofit after others fell through, and recommended Face the Future to WLCO, the board member said.

Star Events also clarified to the board member that it was making a one-time company donation.

When asked about Star’s interest in Face the Future, CEO John Barry pointed to Krage’s ties to both the nonprofit and Star Events.

“Michelle Krage is the President of StarEvents,” Barry said in an email. “She has been on the board of Face the Future for more than 15 years and was the organization’s president in the past. She has strong ties to this organization. Also, it is important to note that neither our StarEvent website nor Taste of Randolph ever said that the money raised went to Face the Future.”

Comments from West Loop Community Organization regarding donations to Face the Future. Credit: Melody Mercado/Block Club Chicago

When asked if WLCO and Darling misinterpreted the donation to Face the Future, Barry said questions regarding “interpretations and speculations” would best be directed to Darling.

Darling did not respond to multiple requests for comment from Block Club Chicago.

“I was concerned that the public was getting the perception that most of the proceeds from Taste of Randolph were going towards Face the Future because we were the only nonprofit that was actually mentioned in their social media posts and advertising,” said the Face the Future board member.

In a direct message the board member shared with Block Club, Darling said she had “zero to do with the charity picked” and didn’t even know about Face the Future until “a couple days before” the event. 

Posts from Darling dating back to May 25 mention Face the Future as a beneficiary of the festival’s suggested donations. Taste of Randolph was staged June 16-18.

“We are required to post that signage at the gate and you will see two lines, one for cash and one for e-payment. It’s an ask of $10 per day. That money pays for the talent, it also pays for the 23% increase of equipment and it pays for a donation to Face the Future which helps children who suffer from cleft palates,” Darling said in the May 25 post. The full post can be seen below.

Post from Julie Darling, president of West Loop Community Organization regarding Face the Future. Credit: Melody Mercado/Block Club Chicago

When asked about the May 25 post, Darling said in an email to the board member that she honestly didn’t know about Face the Future until the week before Taste of Randolph.

“Not deflecting, just giving you the information,” Darling wrote in an Aug. 9 email to the board member.

“I didn’t feel like I got appropriate answers for their posts,” the board member said. “I found it very interesting that their logo was not on any of the social media posts. And it also did not mention that the $10 suggested donation went towards WLCO … only Face the Future.”

When asked about this, Darling responded in the same Aug. 9 email saying WLCO is currently going through a rebranding and the new logo was not ready in time. Instead, WLCO used its website westloop.org to drive traffic to its site, Darling wrote.

WLCO told the board member it would be making a $1,000 donation to Face the Future, matching Star Event’s donation. The board member said the group will return it.

Post from Julie Darling, president of West Loop Community Organization regarding Face the Future. Credit: Melody Mercado/Block Club Chicago

According to Star Events, WLCO made at least $70,000 from this year’s event. The organization gets an additional payout for sponsorships attained, Star said. Previous event contracts obtained by Block Club Chicago show WLCO was guaranteed at least $82,500 for the years 2016-2017 and $85,000 for 2018-2019 from Taste of Randolph.

“It’s your biggest fundraiser of the year, why are you using our nonprofit and saying the money is going towards us and not fessing up that the money is actually going towards WLCO?” the board member questioned.

As a result of the Taste of Randolph situation, Face the Future’s board recently created a new rule that all fundraising efforts must be approved. The nonprofit is hoping the rule change will avoid a similar outcome in the future.  

“It makes me feel disappointed, I feel like the whole thing was very deceiving,” the board member said.

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