Christmas charities saw a huge outpouring of generosity in Red Deer during the weekend — continuing with what appears to be a great season overall.
Organizations including Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the Central Alberta Women’s Outreach, the Christmas Bureau and the Red Deer Food Bank rely heavily on their Christmas drives to help fill their bins and finance their activities.
The RCMP’s annual Charity Check Stop and the Stuff A Bus campaign, both held at the beginning of December, are among the key fundraisers those groups use at the start of the Christmas season to raise their profiles and beef up their bank accounts.
Teresa Kutynec, in her first year as president of the Christmas Bureau, said the two drives brought in outstanding results, including a total of $46,000 in cash from the Stuff a Bus and another $23,000 from the Charity Check Stop.
That is a significant increase from last year, when the Charity Check Stop pulled in between $17,000 and $18,000, said Kutynec.
One of the Check Stop volunteer’s eyes danced with delight as she reported getting a number of $100 bills in her bucket.
Whether the cold weather brought out the warmth in people’s hearts or whether they simply felt sorry for the volunteers lined up along Taylor Drive, the outpouring was “awesome,” said Kutynec.
Volunteers were able to take breaks in a mobile unit provided by the Red Deer City RCMP, downing hot drinks and munching on doughnuts while a team of Mounties tallied the cash.
Money and gifts from the Charity Check Stop are split between the four participating charities while the Food Bank and Christmas Bureau share proceeds from the Stuff A Bus program, run at the Parkland Mall.
At the end of the day, however, all of the donations are distributed in a way that ensures a fair share for everyone, said Darcy Ouellet, executive director of the Women’s Outreach.
Sgt. Bob Bell, one of the Mounties at the Red Deer Charity Check Stop site on Saturday, expressed amazement at the way the program has grown.
Bell said the program was first started a number of years ago in Innisfail by a member who was later transferred to Red Deer and brought the idea along. It has spread since then, with similar drives held in outside areas including Sylvan Lake.
MADD Canada volunteers who helped at the Red Deer site said it was their way to help the organization’s continuing effort to put an end to impaired driving.
Among them were the family of Colton Keeler, one of two Red Deer teenagers killed late in March after being struck from behind by a drunk driver. Keeler was killed at the scene while his friend, Tyson Vanderzwaag, died in hospital a few days later.
Colton’s parents, Darren and Brandee and his brothers, Gordon and Chandler all took their turns at the side of the road on Saturday, braving the icy cold to collect cash for their cause.
For the Keeler family, it was a labour of love, said Darren.