Charity Halloween party becomes a Cedar Rapids smash

When Kelli Sutterman and Mike and Molly Schulte decided to throw a Halloween party three years ago, they thought it would just be their friends and acquaintances. They would offer a chance to put on costumes, listen to live music and raise a little money for charity.

They were hoping for 300 people, but were worried they wouldn?t get even that. They had the DoubleTree by Hilton in downtown Cedar Rapids on board as a venue, and as they looked around the ballroom, they pictured it dwarfing the number of attendees.

Then, in very short order, 900 people bought tickets. As they watched the ticket sales numbers rocket up that first year, ?We panicked and hit the ?sold out? button,? Mike Schulte said. ?We didn?t think it would escalate so fast.?

Their Haunted Halloween Ball, which they had hoped would net $200 to donate, raised $7,000 that first year for Habitat for Humanity. The second year they decided to scale up. They sold 1,300 tickets and donated $8,500 to the Boys and Girls Clubs.

This year, they upped the ticket sales again, to 1,650, which sold out in a week. They?re donating $10,000 to local animal shelters, splitting the money between six organizations.

?We thought we?d do it one year, and it would be fun and we?d say we did it,? Sutterman said. ?Now we?re already planning for next year.?

All have full-time jobs and are running the party ?as a passion project,? Sutterman said. She used to work for The Gazette and owns White Willow Bridal in Cedar Rapids.

Mike Schulte is a real estate agent and drummer for popular local band The Pork Tornadoes. He acknowledges the band?s popularity is part of the draw, but said the event?s quick sellout also speaks to the desire for unique events and things to do in Cedar Rapids. The Market After Dark, put on by the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance each August, draws tens of thousands downtown. Schulte also pointed to the recent inaugural Halloween Parade, which wound through the Czech Village and New Bohemia neighborhoods and brought out crowds despite the cold.

Schulte said, as long as that is the case, they?ll try to keep throwing their Halloween party.

?It?s a lot of work, and it?s very overwhelming at times,? he said. ?There are two moments ? when the party?s finally going, and then when we?re delivering the check, that make it all worth it.?