Western Wheel readers opened their hearts like never before to give seven charities a reason to smile.
The Western Wheel Cares campaign raised a record $71,379.85 for seven charities in its ninth year of operation during a time when many non-profits, charities, small businesses and individuals are struggling through the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We didn’t know what to expect at the beginning of the campaign and donations were predicted to be way down," said Western Wheel office manager Gayle Wolf, the co-ordinator of the Wheel Cares campaign. "Everyone who donated proved that wrong in a phenomenal way and it’s very heart-warming to see and to be involved in helping our community."
The amount raised is a more than a $26,000 increase on last year's totals and brings the Wheel Cares campaign's total amount raised to $414,282 over nine years. Individual donations also increased significantly, up 60 per cent from last year's campaign.
The 2020 campaign benefits Pound Rescue, the Magic of Christmas, Okotoks Food Bank, Rowan House Society, Foothills Country Hospice, Foothills Advocacy in Motion Society (FAIMS) and Sheep River Health Trust. The funds are raised through donations from Western Wheel readers and the community and administered by the Western Wheel.
"Thank you to those of you at the Western Wheel and the donors, the people that donated, it's very generous," said Gerry McCallum, FAIMS executive director. "And we're very pleased and humbled to be recipients of this. We were blown away, couldn't believe it."
The unexpected amount raised comes at an opportune time for FAIMS.
Three of the organization's four major fundraising events were not able to go ahead due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with a smaller scale virtual half marathon providing some help, but not what would be seen in a normal year.
McCallum said the funds raised from Wheel Cares will go towards launching a grant or bursary program for its clients with an entrepreneurial spirit, something that's been done a small scale in the past.
"Many businesses are closed and many places where our individuals would work or volunteer, or participate in different activities have all closed up," he said. "So I want to implement or promote entrepreneurship at our agency. I want to set up an initiative where people that we support can apply for an entrepreneurs grant and it would come out of this money that's been donated."
Though not everybody FAIMS works with wants to be an entrepreneur many in fact do, McCallum noted, citing past examples such as saddle cleaning and fire starter businesses.
"I'm hoping that I can come back in a few months or a year and say to you guys at the Western Wheel or the Wheel Cares foundation or some of your donors and say 'this is what we used it for and how we multiplied it,'" he said. "People that we support deserve to be in the community as much as any of us and this really can be an opportunity where we can help people start their own business."
Rowan House will be using its funds received from the campaign for its preventative education program at schools earmarked for Grades 2, 5, 8 and 11.
For the food bank, the funds will be put towards the purchase of a refrigerated vehicle or one-ton cube van so the Okotoks association can better handle demand as a hub for southern Alberta food banks.
The Magic of Christmas will use the financial funds received to purchase gifts to provide smiles for those struggling in the community.
Foothills Country Hospice society will put the funds raised to increase patient comfort in the summer months with the purchase of Dyson fans as well as medical equipment and use funds to offset the costs of expanding its community support programs.
The Sheep River Health Trust will use the funds to ensure Okotoks and Foothills area students are well-fed through its school meal programs.
As part of Wheel Cares, the Western Wheel reached out to local businesses through the Business Elf Campaign which provided an Elf Ad showing they care for each donation made by a business. The free ads were placed in prime positions in print and on the OkotoksToday Facebook page as a means to support these generous businesses with free exposure during the economic difficulties being faced amid the pandemic.
"Campaign time is always busy but this year was extraordinarily so for me, personally and I loved every minute of it," Wolf said. "Normally we have other staff in the office to help with walk-in donations but with COVID-19, our office door was locked and I was the only one here to assist people.
"Exhausting in a very good way and I really enjoyed the little breaks to chat with donors about life with COVID and how everyone felt a special need to do what they could to help out our community this year."