Russell trivia nights crippled by COVID, but donations keep rolling in

The Johnstons granddaughter Clare, 16,donated this Peace Tower painting to the auction.

Tom Van Dusen
Nation Valley News

RUSSELL — Like so many other companies and individuals these days, Russell’s premier fundraiser has taken much of her business online.

Her business? Although she doesn’t get paid for her efforts, Connie Johnston treats raising money for folks in need like a business that requires close to full-time attention. COVID-19 stalled the operation but it’s picking up steam once again.

The momentum generated by her popular pre-pandemic Trivia Nights held most recently at the Russell Community Centre was legendary; organized like clockwork, with dedicated volunteer helpers, the evenings which included paid admission and silent and live auctions, pulled in thousands of dollars each time for a variety of causes such as service clubs, health institutions, and individuals experiencing personal tragedy.

Johnston organized all the questions herself, a time-consuming activity on its own, with major changes occurring between Trivia Nights in order to keep the regulars guessing. There are devotees such as Russell Township Councillor Cindy Saucier who almost never missed a trivia event.

As if that wasn’t enough, there was an assortment of other events over 16 years of concentrated fundraising; all together, Johnston believes about $1.5 million has been collected from willing donors.

Brought up on a North Russell Farm and proud graduate of a one-room school, Johnston sees it all as the right, down-home thing to do, a way of giving back to the community she loves while giving a hand up to those who deserve one.

To pretty much be guaranteed a handsome cash contribution, all it took was for Johnston and close associates to be convinced the cause “fits under our umbrella”. The latest example is Rebecca Smith, single mother of two adopted daughters from China, who contracted cancer about five years ago.

Chemo beat it for several years but the cancer returned; Smith went on sick leave from her job with Health Canada and continued to work part-time at Russell Foodland to supplement her income.

With Trivia Nights sidelined, Johnston and others organized a Facebook raffle for a $200 Foodland gift certificate which raised… wait for it!… $16,200. Not satisfied with that, next came an online auction of donated items including art and gift baskets which closed at 5 p.m. last Saturday.

When the count was done, Johnston, who enlisted her husband Jerry in this latest effort, announced $6,000 had been raised from the auction…for a total of $22,200 to be turned over to the Smith family. Jerry wasn’t the only family member who helped: Granddaughter Clare, 16, donated a Peace Tower drawing that fetched $60 from Russell resident Marc Bourque.

In thanking the Johnstons and the bidders, Smith announced that she was “blown away” by the generosity and support. “We got you,” replied local banker and bidder Peggy Shea-Marchessault. Another banker, Suzanne Bolduc, lost track of the final bidding and didn’t get any items; she stated she would donate to the cause anyway.

Social media was bursting with praise for the effort and for the community generosity: “You never cease to amaze Connie,” said Doug Anthony, himself a major Kin Club fundraiser. “We’re blessed to have you and Jerry in the community.”

Johnston was as thrilled by the outcome as anybody and thanked her home community yet again for rallying around a worthy cause.

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