By Kenyon Stronski
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
With a goal to raise $20,000 for their programs, Matilda Van Huizen and the Taber Food Bank went into their annual Coldest Night of the Year fundraiser with thoughts of repeating the same success they’ve had in previous years. They didn’t expect the massive success it turned out to be.
“It was amazing this year,” said Van Huizen. “The first year was exciting because it was the first year and we’ve never done it, but this year was just, and maybe because we took a break, but people were just happy to be there. There were smiles all over everyone’s faces and even though there was a bit of a cold wind, nobody was complaining and there was mostly just excitement to get going. Just the results are just… There’s no other way to say it we were blown away. We had on record 124 registered but there were 136 walkers because some had signed up as a family under one registration. We had hoped we would get 100 so the fact that we got more was really great and we had hoped to get maybe 13 teams where we got 20. We’d hoped to make $20,000 and we made over $49,000, so just everything was amazing. It was good talking to people, meeting new people, meeting the groups that had signed up. Everything ran smoothly and just the people that stepped up to volunteer. We had 19 volunteers recorded but we had close to 35 volunteers because we had some that didn’t sign up as a volunteer but still helped out and just the overwhelming presence of Taber — participants, donators, volunteers, it was just very good.”
Coldest Night of the Year, which ran on Feb. 25 wasn’t just a success for Taber, either, but a success for the 165 locations that hosted the fundraiser. With a Canada-wide goal to raise $10,000,000 — they managed to raise $11,554,191 with 5,419 teams, 31,011 walkers, 2,103 volunteers, 125,340 donors, and 1,515 sponsors.
“I have to give credit where credit’s due, Taber is phenomenal in the things it does supporting fundraising events and really what better cause than the food bank itself,” said Taber Mayor Andrew Prokop. “This is an annual fundraiser for the food bank and it wasn’t able to go last year so I think people were a little disappointed about that and this kind of made up for it. They couldn’t wait to get out and do it again. The town of Taber and its community is phenomenal for these kinds of things, and I believe there was around 130 that were there. It’s usually somewhere around 100 — so that’s up 30 per cent right there and it’s a major increase and hence why they got to the $49,000 plus figure when their goal was $20,000 and that’s getting close to that three times goal. Credit to our Taber and area residents for a very successful end result.”
The ‘giving spirit of Taber’ is a hot discussion, and both Van Huizen and Prokop see it as a source of pride.
“I’ve seen many things in the past in where even short-notice events are successful. Just to see that many people come together and be generous for a great cause is huge and that’s Taber. We can be biased towards ourselves but I think we have a reason to be,” said Prokop.
Van Huizen noted the same, while also commenting, “There is just a heart to Taber and the people that live here. The community, schools, churches, service groups — that when and where there’s a need there’s always a helping and people who will step up.”
“They’re aware that while there’s poverty and famine out in the world, they’re also aware that there’s people in a community that need that extra hand and that extra support and encouragement. To me, it’s an amazing community in that way and I’m sure we’re not the only service provider that can speak to how giving Taber is and I’m just so grateful to be a part of it. I think we work really hard, and we saw a lot of families at our event and that shows to me parents are modelling to their children to get out and support local causes and really what better way to teach our future generation. When parents bring their children along to the things they get involved in., they’re modelling to be aware of community needs and every little bit of participation helps. People think they might need to put so much time in or empty their pockets but they don’t — if you don’t have the funds then give an hour of your time. Time is just as important and it’s an equally valuable resource.”
Van Huizen also said that most of the money from the fundraiser will go to a program to give good protein and meats to the Town of Taber.
“If another need does arrive, they may take some of the funds from that but it’s not going into general use for bills. With rising grocery costs, and meat costs probably going up, it’s nice to have that cushion because we don’t know how the year will go. It’ll be nice to get through the full year where they’ll be able to provide good meat and protein products for the hampers and lunches. They also make daily sandwiches for clients to pick up so they’ll get sandwich meat for those as well. It’s just a blessing to know they’ll have the funds to do that without worrying if it’ll be enough.”
She also commented on the importance of small donations, and how $10 or $20 can go just as far and be just as meaningful as large donations from businesses. “Economic circumstances for a lot of people right now are tough and the sheer fact that prices are up on everything. It takes a larger financial hit on a family and so to expect to raise $20,000 if we get there, great. But to have gone to almost $50,000 is just like… Wow.”
Supporting a not-for-profit such as the Taber Food Bank is extremely important to a community, as they support those who just may need that extra hand. Mayor Prokop noted the number of individuals the food bank supports ranges from around 300 to 400 which he noted with sadness is around five per cent of the Taber community.
“I don’t remember what year they actually started, but the food bank has been around for a while, very well used, and very well run. The people’s support is paramount and it’s definitely a necessary requirement for here in Taber. Even this event was a little restricted because it was at the tail-end of the restriction changes, and they didn’t have the sit-down dinner but it was amazing and a great success. Credit to all involved for making it such a great success.”
In closing, the mayor also proposed a challenge for Taber and area.
“I think the challenge out there now is to better that next year. Roughly $50,000 this year so why not shoot for $60,000?”