A Red Deer man who has raised more than $170,000 to grant the wishes of children with critical illnesses was part of an event that celebrated four decades of Make-A-Wish Canada.
Joe Hittel, 88, recently returned from the 40th Anniversary Wish Trip in Florida, which was the first group wish ever done by Make-A-Wish.
It costs about $10,000 to grant a child’s wish, meaning he has helped grant the wishes of 17 children since 2018. Make-A-Wish brought Hittel on the 40th Anniversary Wish Trip to honour his fundraising efforts.
“It was the trip of a lifetime. It was just excellent. I’ve never been on this side of things – I’ve granted wishes, but this time I saw it firsthand,” Hittel said.
“Talking with the kids, the parents and the volunteers, it was just something else. … The parents were thanking me for what I’m doing. I shed a few tears and broke down a couple of times.”
Forty-four families from across Canada participated in the week-long adventure, featuring a trip to Walt Disney World. Everyone gathered in Toronto for a sendoff party, then were welcomed with another party in Florida at Give Kids the World Village resort. They also attended a 40th anniversary bowling party at Splitsville in Disney Springs.
Hittel began his fundraising journey in 2018 when he participated in the Rope for Hope event, which featured people rappelling down the side of the Stantec building in downtown Red Deer.
He continued participating in Rope for Hope, while wearing his trademark leprechaun costume, until the event’s final year in 2021. The end of Rope for Hope didn’t stop his fundraising efforts, as he continued to raise money for Make-A-Wish Canada in 2022 and again in 2023.
This year, Hittel is aiming to raise $50,000. He is a bit over halfway to reaching that goal.
Proceeds from Joe Hittel menu items at Chillabong’s Bar and Grill will go towards Make-A-Wish Canada. There will also be a silent auction at Chillabong’s from Sept. 15-30.
“The silent auction is running a little longer this year so we can have it open for two weekends and two Wednesday wing nights,” Hittel said, adding there will be live music on the final day of the silent auction.
To donate to Hittel’s campaign, visit bit.ly/JoeHittel23.