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Red Nose Day 2024 fights child poverty with the 'whimsy' of a candy castle, monster truck and Legos

NEW YORK (AP) — An edible, life-sized cookie of the contest winner and a car-crushing monster truck ride are two of the new prizes up for grabs in the Red Nose Day 2024 campaign, which starts on Thursday.

As Comic Relief's fundraising initiative for underserved American children enters its 10th year, the charity is hoping to draw donations by encouraging the childlike wonder that millions of poverty-stricken kids might miss. First disseminated through clown-like schnozzes at Walgreens locations, the message is spreading this year through Instagram sing-alongs, a sweepstakes and new partners such as Lego.

It’s all an effort to “evoke the childhood dream of whimsy,” Comic Relief U.S. CEO Alison Moore told The Associated Press.

In 2022, child poverty doubled in the United States, as pandemic-era benefits expired, adding relevance to the mission. Since 2015, Red Nose Day has raised $370 million to stock community food centers and fund local health workers, among other anti-poverty measures worldwide.

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Through June 3, contributions on Red Nose Day’s website will unlock an entry into a “Childhood Dreamstakes” for one of six experiences that hope to stir the fanciful wishes of youth. In addition to the cookie and the truck, donors could win an edible cotton candy castle, a personalized hot air balloon ride, a giant model volcano eruption or “a trip to befriend a penguin.”

Planned with help from creative agency Gus, the campaign expects that the “fun-filled moments” will highlight the importance of a “healthy, fruitful childhood” and “creating space to let kids be kids.”

“To us, it’s a reminder of the carefree happiness every child deserves, and the childhood sense of fun and wonder that’s inside us all,” Gus co-founder Spencer LaVallee said in a statement.

Comic Relief U.S. is once more relying on entertainers to generate awareness. Halftime skills challenges during the Harlem Globetrotters’ current tour feature a custom Red Nose Day basketball. Longtime partner NBC plans to celebrate the decade-long drive with a one-hour May 23 special including “The Voice” coaches John Legend, Chance the Rapper, Reba McEntire and Dan + Shay.

As in recent years, Comic Relief is foregoing the physical red nose once available to Walgreens customers. What’s new are interactive filters that place digital ones on users’ faces across Instagram, Facebook, TikTok and Snapchat. Pets should even be able to don a virtual red nose on the latter two platforms.

While the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is again backing the campaign, the push is also aided by first-time corporate collaborations with some kid-friendly brands. Aimed toward field trips, Lego's “The Biggest Build” challenge will invite students to design their dream communities at 14 museums around the country. Chuck E. Cheese locations are soliciting round-up contributions at checkout this month and donating 20% of participating sales on May 23.

Others in the philanthropic sector credited Comic Relief U.S. for staying authentic to Red Nose Day over the past ten years. The tactics won't work for every fundraiser, said Elevate Prize Foundation CEO Carolina Garcia Jayaram, who founded the nonprofit supporting social entrepreneurs.

But Jayaram said fundraising is about meeting people where they are — and comedy and popular culture have proven to be successful avenues for drawing attention toward childhood poverty.

“There's not nearly enough money being pumped into these solutions,” Jayaram told the AP at the nonprofit's annual Make Good Famous Summit Wednesday. "I wish we didn't all have to get out there and do a big song and dance for all that money. But if it works, it works.”

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Associated Press writer Glenn Gamboa contributed reporting from Miami Beach, Fla.

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Associated Press coverage of philanthropy and nonprofits receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content. For all of AP’s philanthropy coverage, visit https://apnews.com/hub/philanthropy.

James Pollard, The Associated Press