Above, watch the full proceedings of the Sisters for Life Gala 2.0.
FINCH — In the end, COVID-19 couldn’t stop the North Stormont-area Sisters for Life relay team from generating their biggest tally to date in the fight against cancer.
Just as the pandemic prompted local ‘Relay for Life’ walking events to go virtual in June, the Sisters’ own primary fundraiser — the ‘Ladies Christmas Gala’ that normally packs the upstairs community hall in Finch — went exclusively online Nov. 20. Billed as “Gala 2.0 Home for the Holidays” the virtual event was broadcast on Facebook Live to the Gala’s group of supporters on the social media platform.
Sisters for Life organizers say they are “absolutely thrilled with the outcome of fundraising efforts this year” — expressing confidence that total Gala contributions will exceed just over $30,000 once all dollars are received. That also brings their total fundraised dollars to the $160,000 range since the determined group of passionate and talented volunteers came together in 2013.
In a year of letdowns, the Sisters for Life team admits feeling deflated when the pandemic cancelled the regular Gala.
But they say COVID-19 does not stop cancer and the community’s need for help. With the support of community members and businesses, the team also hosted multiple on-line auctions as part of the Gala. Every initiative “exceeded the wildest dreams,” and the team says it’s very grateful to the community who stood beside them and supported them in every way possible — donating goods and services, promoting the events, rolling up their sleeves and helping behind the scenes and providing encouragement every step of the way.
“Covid threw us a big challenge, but we’ve dug in and done our best,” said team member and broadcast emcee Maureen Robertson as the livestream kicked off, also thanking Nation Valley News and Storm Internet Services for helping to pull it together.
This year’s total has been bolstered by community sponsors pledging to match each dollar raised in 2020. Funds generated this year will support the Winchester District Memorial Hospital Mammography Fund, the Canadian Cancer Society Wheels of Hope Program and a promising research project managed by Dr. John Bell at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute.
Among those matching dollars are Cindy Ault Peters and her brother, Bill Ault, in memory of their late mother and father, Pat and Frank Ault. Peters explained during the broadcast that she and her late mother attended the 2019 Gala and “had a fantastic time.” When told the group was looking for matching donors for the 2020 edition, “she immediately offered to do it,” recounted Peters of her mother, also noting the family lost Frank Ault to pancreatic cancer in 2017.
The event featured realtime contests and draws, interspersed with pre-recorded video highlighting the aging mammography machine at WDMH, the exciting cancer research of Dr. John Bell, as well as the testimonial of breast cancer survivor Tammy Johnston Jodoin. The on-screen participants also interviewed cancer survivor Debra–Lynn Bellefeuille, the Canadian Cancer Society’s Ontario director Doug Kane, and Mathieu Crupi, an associate of Dr. Bell’s.
A solemn highlight was a ceremony replicating the traditional Gala’s minute or two of silence for locals who have succumbed to the disease while the banquet hall is illuminated only by tea lights. The virtual version saw names play on a black screen with an image of a tea light — preceded by the team individually holding up lights within their online chat room that tied the production together.
“I would like to thank you, all of our Gala guests, thank you for hopping onboard and joining us on this virtual adventure … We are so lucky to live in such a generous and caring community, people who just give and give and give,” said Kim Casselman, marvelling at the level of support received in the online auctions leading up to the broadcast. “The auction has been phenomenal.”
Announcing the funds raised by the end of the live stream, Robertson said the group was “thrilled to death” at the sum. “When we started this, we thought, we’re not sure where we’ll go with this virtual thing! But it’s surprised us and most certainly has been a treat to see all of the different adventures we’ve been into and how well they’ve done.”
If you would like to support the efforts of the Sisters for Life and their fight against cancer, they are welcoming donations until November 30th. Please contact Maureen Robertson at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 613-662-2935. Tax receipts will be provided by the charity you chose to receive your donation.
The Sisters for Life team comprises Susan Casselman, Monique Rutley, Joy Krol, Natalie Dawson, Meghan-Tia Robertson, Kaitlyn Beehler, Angie Beehler, Kim Casselman and Maureen Robertson.
The group got its start participating in the Ingleside Relay for Life and grew into a fundraising team “with several different avenues of raising funds,” Robertson explained.
“Now our Gala is our main event as well as our on line auctions and Shabby Chic boutique where we sell donated household goods. The funds we raise are donated directly to the charities we select each year to help with the fight against cancer. This was the first year we have been able to secure matching donors for all the funds we raise.”