TREES FOR TOTS

Trees for Tots is Gueph’s lit­tle fundraiser that could

Grand Magazine - - CONTENTS - BY JOANNE SHUTTLEWORTH

In Guelph, loss of a ser­vice leads to pop­u­lar fundraiser

Trees for Tots has been a suc­cess­ful fundraiser for the Chil­dren’s Foun­da­tion of Guelph and Welling­ton, rais­ing more than $50,000 last Jan­uary and about $150,000 over its five-year his­tory.

But Trees for Tots also of­fers lessons in how an en­trepreneurial spirit can cap­i­tal­ize on an op­por­tu­nity, build sup­port in the com­mu­nity and con­tinue to grow ev­ery year.

“It’s kind of amaz­ing the way it came to­gether,” says Glenna Banda, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the foun­da­tion. “There was such sup­port in the com­mu­nity for the idea, right from the be­gin­ning.”

Banda was speak­ing last Jan­uary at a wood-chip­ping site on Ed­in­burgh Road, one of sev­eral through­out the city where hun­dreds of vol­un­teers were drop­ping off Christ­mas tress picked up from curbs.

Banda stepped out of the fray to talk about how Trees for Tots be­gan, the in­di­vid­u­als who brought their ex­per­tise to the ta­ble, and her de­light that the fundraiser has be­come a beloved ini­tia­tive for res­i­dents and vol­un­teers.

It all be­gan in Novem­ber of 2012 when Guelph City Coun­cil de­cided to scrap its Christ­mas tree col­lec­tion pro­gram in an ef­fort to trim the op­er­at­ing bud­get. Es­ti­mated sav­ings were pegged at $29,000.

That left an open­ing for an en­ter­pris­ing in­di­vid­ual or or­ga­ni­za­tion to take over the ser­vice. But it also left only a few weeks to

pull such a pro­gram to­gether.

The Chil­dren’s Foun­da­tion of Guelph and Welling­ton de­cided to go for it.

“Marty Wil­liams (ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Down­town Guelph Busi­ness As­so­ci­a­tion) put the bug in our ear,” says Banda. “He told us the city had just can­celled Christ­mas tree pickup and maybe we could charge $5 a tree and do it as a fundraiser. Within 24 hours of be­ing just an idea, we launched Trees for Tots.”

“I was an­gry,” Wil­liams says with a chuckle as he re­calls that coun­cil bud­get meet­ing. “I thought the pro­jected sav­ings amounted to peanuts and was hardly worth the in­con­ve­nience of peo­ple hav­ing to go to the dump, or hav­ing peo­ple chuck­ing their trees where they shouldn’t.

“So I called Peter Thur­ley (de­vel­op­ment co-or­di­na­tor of the Chil­dren’s Foun­da­tion at the time) and sug­gested that he and I should rent a truck, col­lect a few Christ­mas trees and raise a few thou­sand dol­lars. He went to the foun­da­tion, they said yes, and from there it left just took off.

“It’s il­log­i­cal that the ser­vice was cut in the first place, but it’s mor­phed into a great fundraiser.”

Guelph Hy­dro vol­un­teered its ex­per­tise to work out col­lec­tion routes for vol­un­teers. Land­scap­ers and tree re­moval com­pa­nies of­fered trucks and wood chip­pers. Vol­un­teers came for­ward with trucks and muscle. Cor­po­rate spon­sors made do­na­tions. Res­i­dents reg­is­tered for the ser­vice. Trees for Tots raised $20,000 its first year. Which is all the more re­mark­able, Banda says, as the Christ­mas tree col­lec­tion falls di­rectly on the heels of an­other of the Chil­dren’s Foun­da­tion’s ma­jor ini­tia­tives, its an­nual Adopt-a-Fam­ily Christ­mas ham­per drive.

“It was a lit­tle over­whelm­ing that first year, that’s true,” Banda says. “But a lot of great peo­ple came for­ward and of­fered to help and that’s why it’s been suc­cess­ful. We don’t have the tech­nol­ogy to fig­ure out the routes. We didn’t know what to do with the trees once we picked them up. Peo­ple stepped up and we worked it out along the way. It re­ally was in­cred­i­ble.”

Banda says Terry Jay, owner of Terry’s Tree Re­moval, was in­stru­men­tal in or­ga­niz­ing tree chip­pers for the first two years. At the time Jay said he wanted to help the Chil­dren’s Foun­da­tion be­cause when he was a boy his fam­ily had re­ceived a Christ­mas ham­per one year and he was fi­nally in a po­si­tion to pay it for­ward.

Trag­i­cally, on Feb. 7, 2014, Jay was killed in an ac­ci­dent at Toronto’s Pear­son Air­port, where he had a snow re­moval con­tract. Af­ter his shift that day, he went to help an­other off-duty con­trac­tor who was hav­ing trou­ble with his truck in the park­ing lot. Jay be­came trapped un­der that truck’s equip­ment and died be­fore paramedics could get to him.

“That was tragic,” Banda says. “Terry was a strong sup­porter of our pro­gram and a re­ally nice per­son. His fam­ily still vol­un­teers – his dad came out (last) year. But yes, that would have been our low­est point.”

The year of the ice storm also posed prob­lems for the lit­tle fundraiser. Col­lec­tion had to be post­poned as ice en­cased the city. But over­all the op­er­a­tion has be­come more stream­lined and ef­fi­cient.

It’s kind of amaz­ing the way it came to­gether. There was such sup­port in the com­mu­nity for the idea, right from the be­gin­ning.” GLENNA BANDA, CHIL­DREN’S FOUN­DA­TION OF GUELPH AND WELLING­TON

The Chil­dren’s Foun­da­tion uses the funds to run three pro­grams: Adopt-a-Fam­ily, which pro­vides Christ­mas ham­pers in­clud­ing gro­cery gift cards and gifts for needy fam­i­lies; Food and Friends, a break­fast, lunch and snack pro­gram at lo­cal schools; and Free to Play, which cov­ers reg­is­tra­tion fees so chil­dren liv­ing in poverty can par­tic­i­pate in sports.

Banda mar­vels that the project is still go­ing strong. Thou­sands of trees are col­lected each year by hun­dreds of vol­un­teers.

There’s a cer­tain ca­ma­raderie that de­vel­ops over phys­i­cal labour and a hot soup lunch. Many of the vol­un­teers have been at it since the be­gin­ning, Banda says.

Wil­liams says what he likes about Trees for Tots is that it draws out a dif­fer­ent set of vol­un­teers than the fundrais­ers he’s used to see­ing.

“You see peo­ple you don’t nor­mally see in vol­un­teer cir­cles – guys with trucks and chip­pers, peo­ple who are pre­pared to do a few hours hard work. That’s the fun of it,” he says.

Krista Ped­er­sen has vol­un­teered with Trees for Tots for two years, and on that chilly day last Jan­uary, it was her job to hand out new routes to the vol­un­teer truck driv­ers af­ter they dropped their loads at the chip­ping site.

As a teacher, Ped­er­sen says she had a bit of time to vol­un­teer over the Christ­mas break and two years ago she dis­cov­ered Trees for Tots.

“I was ac­tu­ally look­ing at the Adopt-aFam­ily pro­gram, but the foun­da­tion said they needed vol­un­teers for this,” Ped­er­sen says with a smile. “It’s not bad if you dress for the weather. And it re­ally feels good to help.”

DAVE PELESCHAK

Glenna Banda, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Chil­dren’s Foun­da­tion of Guelph and Welling­ton, was all smiles this past Jan­uary on tree pick-up day.

DEAN PALMER Trees for Tots vol­un­teers pose at the Ig­natius Je­suit Cen­tre, one of the col­lec­tion points dur­ing the 2017 event.

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