At the beginning of 2021, Christina Marinelli, General Manager for Whitecourt Original Joe’s, set out a lofty goal for the year. She and her staff wanted to touch the community in a way they hadn’t before by holding twelve different fundraisers. Marinelli said that she wasn’t entirely sure they would succeed when they first established the goal.
“I put it out there for the universe because I thought that would be a really great thing to do. I mean, what a great goal to have! I usually say that goals are for striving for and not necessarily for hitting, but it was just something that I thought, why not. Let’s make a really big audacious goal and see if we can hit it.” Though it seemed crazy at first, Marinelli said it ended up being easier than she thought it would be.
“I think this was a good time to take this on. I think people have a little more space in their lives because of everything going on in the world. Many of us think that our lives have stopped in many different ways, especially socially, because things are slower. I also think that maybe more priority has been given to connection because you have to work at it and think outside of the box. I also think there’s a really good awareness of how COVID has hit non-profits and charitable organizations because they also have to offer programs while dealing with restrictions which are so challenging.”
Marinelli said that many non-profits face revenue stream issues because they can’t hold typical fundraisers. “That would be about getting big attendance numbers or getting people together. Things had to be done online or outside, which can be tricky. I think this is a year where things really had to change with how we run fundraisers, and I think the need was there for the organizations.”
Though her staff dealt with shutdowns and layoffs just like most every business, Marinelli said that the fundraisers brought staff together and were an awesome team-building thing for them. “I think too that my staff and the community needed to put a little emphasis and focus on those organizations. The people that spent their time on these events, either by participating or helping me organize, like my team members at Original Joe’s, I think we got so much out of it. I think that’s why I kept getting a lot of the staff happy to volunteer.”
Marinelli, who will be going on maternity leave soon, looks to 2022 and is excited about the possibilities. “One event that has been on hiatus for a couple of years, Mutt Strutt, is something we usually do in the fall. We’ve done five of them, and because of COVID, the last two didn’t run. We have to bring it back. It’s an outdoor event, and I think at this point, even if the pandemic is still rolling, I think we can manage it.”
The first big fundraiser Original Joe’s completed in 2021 involved Soaring Eagle, and the non-profit has already reached out wanting to do something in 2022. “We did Valentine’s Day baskets curated by local businesses. They did so, so well. It was such a success. So, we will make something happen again. We don’t know what Soaring Eagle has up their sleeves this time, but things are definitely rolling along,” said Marinelli.
Over the year, her team had fundraisers for local hospital staff, the Boys & Girls Club of Whitecourt and District, Soaring Eagle, Spruce View Lodge, the staff at Whitecourt Central School, the citizens of Lytton B.C (wildfire), and Eagle Tower Victim Services. They also held a First Responders Appreciation Lunch. “I want to keep this going and make sure that this type of energy and work in the community continues,” smiled Marinelli.
When asked what her favourite part has been through the year, Marinelli said it was getting to see everything come together. “We start every fundraiser with brainstorming. At that point, we have no idea what we are doing. We come into the meeting very barebones. The first couple of weeks, as we pull things together and put the social media out there, it’s a bit quiet as we build that traction. But then, every single fundraiser catches a gear at some point, and we start to see our donation table fill up or the office at the back starts to fill up. It’s so exciting to see that happen. Everyone starts to get pumped up for the reveal day when we tell the community how much money we raised or when we get to present things to an organization.”
Marinelli said organizations have started reaching out because they know Original Joe’s staff will support them in a fundraiser. “It’s getting bigger than us now. Sharing this with the community is a good feeling and is pretty intoxicating. It spurs us on and builds excitement for the next one. I think everyone on my crew felt that, and it has been a great feeling to share with them. It encourages me to think of big goals in the future because you really can hit them if you put them out there and try. Our community is amazing. With that kind of support behind you, you can make things happen.”
Serena Lapointe, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Whitecourt Press