Since the beginning of 2021, Original Joe's Whitecourt has held no less than seven fundraisers. General Manager Christina Marinelli said she loves getting to use the restaurant's platform to do good deeds. "My goal at the beginning of the year was to do one fundraiser a month. I don't know if I will hit that, but I hope I do. COVID really through a loop in our fundraising, and we couldn't do anything for so long."
Marinelli, who grew up in a family-owned restaurant, said that Original Joe's surprises her at every turn. "They value my compassion and empathy. The dollars and cents take care of themselves if you put your energy in the right places. It might be a franchise, but it is very entrenched in the community, which goes for every location. If they don't become community-focused, they will be a flash in the pan."
Having moved here seven years ago, Marinelli said that she found herself in Whitecourt. "I found my WHY in this town. I got a platform to start doing good deeds, and people keep supporting what we do and saying thank you. It provides motivation and inspiration to keep going. It feeds the soul. Whitecourt feels like home now, and I've had children here. This town is so awesome and is such a gem. That's why we do this. Create good deeds and put the money where it needs to go."
They have fundraised for Soaring Eagle Support Society, calling them miracle workers in the community, and have collected bottles supporting the Community Lunch Box. In mid-April, they made a bake sale to fundraise for the residents in Spruceview Lodge. Generous donations from IGA, Mountain Pizza & Steakhouse, Violet-Mae's Bakery, and staff at Original Joe's, raised enough money to purchase new outside furniture, craft supplies and provide Spruceview folks with a delicious wing night.
On June 10, the Original Joe's Heart Cart made a stop in town to provide a free meal for first responders. Over the lunch hour, the staff gave out about 100 meals. "The cart's mission is to show those in the community appreciation for their hard work. When we hear of a great opportunity, we bring the truck to them to take care of and thank them for their selflessness. The Heart Cart never accepts any payment; it only gives," said their Facebook post.
At the same time, they were also doing a 50/50 fundraiser for Eagle Tower Victim Services and Karson's Kareer, their support dog. The day OJ's provided free meals to first responders, they wrapped up the draw and picked a winner. Original Joe's raised $1590, which the winner and Eagle Tower Victim Services split. Along with their meals, first responders received a handwritten thank you note. An abundance of letters came in from Ecole St Mary and Ecole St Joseph students that the staff decided to put the notes on display inside the restaurant.
Another fundraiser saw two dollars from every appetizer purchased on July 1 donated to Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society. "We are hoping this small act will not only bring some recognition to the hundreds of Indigenous children who were discovered in graves but also assist in the healing and education of others," said their Facebook post.
Just six days later, Original Joe's started yet another fundraiser, this time in support of the residents of Lytton, British Columbia, following the devastating fire that wiped out the community. Edie Couture lived in Lillooet and still has family in the area. Lillooet is just down the road from Lytton. A current employee at OJ's, she brought the idea of the fundraiser to her boss. "To see the town of Lytton, a place I had seen prior, be demolished like that was heartbreaking. I thought this fundraiser would be a good thing to do because helping people is important," said Couture.
Residents that dropped off bottles were offered coupons for the restaurant, and many opted to donate without receiving anything in return. "Lots of people are thanking us for doing this, and we say thank you to them for dragging their bottles down to us and supporting this cause," said Marinelli.
Being a community surrounded by forests, Marinelli said that supporting Lytton is a bit of good karma. "This very well could happen to us. My husband is an arborist and has been a firefighter. He's always saying that this area is overdue for a fire. I think we're just hoping that people would do this for us, so let's do it for them. We believe that people make the world beautiful, so let's step in to help while we can, and when we can't help because we are facing something, then I know that people would be there for us."
Throughout the afternoon, residents dropped off bags of bottles and the area just off from the patio filled up. "One of our core values is taking care of the community. That's always been how we do our marketing. We do not have any marketing in town other than community projects. We get so much involvement every time we do something, and it is amazing," said Marinelli.
So, what's next? Marinelli said she is not sure yet. She mentioned that they were looking to bring the Heart Cart back to surprise some teachers this fall and that they would likely do another fundraiser for the Second Chance Animal Rescue. She also mentioned another event to support the Whitecourt Food Bank would be in the works. "I hope by the end of the year, I'll have done twelve fundraisers. If people have any ideas for fundraisers, please tell me! We are a strong team, and we want to keep supporting our community."
Serena Lapointe, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Whitecourt Press