A working lunch is nothing new, but members of the Festival of Giving committee may have invented the walking lunch during their meeting last week.
A group of about eight committee members spent Friday munching on pizza as they walked though the John D. Bradley Convention Centre in preparation for the 14th annual festival that takes place April 18.
That day more than 1,000 people will attend the event and, if past performance is any indication, they will raise more than $300,000 for the foundation of the Chatham-Kent Children’s Treatment Centre and other local charities
Although the festival is the single biggest one-day fundraising event in Chatham-Kent, it’s actually an eight-month long commitment for the volunteers who began last October.
Planned like a military exercise but looking like a travelling circus, the festival has already raised more than $2.25 million since its beginning at St. Joseph’s Hall.
After outgrowing that facility, it moved to Kinsmen Auditorium before shifting to the Bradley Centre in 2012.
Carol Summers, sales and event manager at the Bradley Centre, said working with the FoG group is a pleasure.
“In a word, they’re amazing,” she said. “They have so much fun doing what they do. Every year we’re just surprised by how they just keep topping themselves.”
Art Stirling, executive director of the Foundation of the Chatham-Kent Children’s Treatment Centre, said the continuing success of the event is due to the steering committee and community involvement.
“We have some high-energy people with plenty of talent. They take charge of whatever area of responsibility they’re given and they do what they say they’re going to do,” he said. “The festival is a lot of work, but the committee and the volunteers make it a lot of fun as well.”
The event is once again a sell out with a waiting list.
“The bulk of the tickets are sold within hours of putting them on sale,” Stirling said.
Although the group has some turnover on committees, many of the former members are still linked in one way or another.
“We’ve had chairs in the past such as George Bossy, Michael Grail, Greg Hetherington and Darrin Canniff who are still active in various ways,” he said. “No one ever really leaves unless they move out of the community.”
This year’s co-chairs Gord and Patty Purchase and Darrin and Tina Evans got hooked just by attending.
“I came a few times and then I really got interested in the behind-the-scenes work,” Greg said. “The next thing I knew, I was co-chair.”
It’s a similar refrain for Donna Polowick, who is in charge of decorating and preparing a floor plan for this year’s event.
“I’ve been involved for six or seven years. I got hooked because it’s such a good cause and so much fun.”
During Friday’s meeting, she was pointing out the various attractions and events to other members who wondered how it was possible.
“I know there’s a lot going on, but I think it’s going to be amazing,” she said with a laugh.
Based on the past few years, attendees won’t be let down.
Stirling said the festival has between 75 and 100 sponsors, led by Union Gas that annually makes a contribution of $50,000.
The festival doesn’t just rely on sponsors, as more than 300 volunteers work to take care of everything down to the smallest detail.
Friday’s meeting discussed who was to be in charge of “cleaning up” anything left behind by the horses that will greet people at the centre entrance.
“We gather more than 400 auction items each year from local firms who step up and provide us with products,” Stirling said. “Without all of the volunteers, this just wouldn’t happen.”
He said there have been representatives from out-of-town charities who have heard of the event’s “one-day success” and want to emulate it.
“Most of the time they just look at the amount of work and number of volunteers it takes and they don’t even try,” he said. “That’s a testament to the incredible community support we have in Chatham-Kent.”