A sign posted outside the Ottawa Food Bank poses the question: which necessity would you choose, if you couldn't afford both? Photo credit: Kristy Jones

Every year the event management program at Algonquin College requires students to host fundraisers. They are charged with booking venues, finding sponsors, hosting raffles and auctions, and delivering live entertainment, all with a zero-dollar budget.

This year, there will be no venues or sponsors, no raffles or auctions. These fundraising events are going virtual.

After the COVID-19 pandemic hit, event management students had to completely rethink their approach to fundraising events.

The program has been extremely successful in the past, contributing to charities for youth with mental illness, children-centred illness and ecology. In the last 12 years they have raised $1.2 million for the Children’s Wish Foundation.

This year the group was already supporting The Dave Smith Youth Treatment Centre, Candlelighters, and The Ottawa Riverkeeper. In response to the pandemic they added another charity to the list – The Ottawa Food Bank.

“The Ottawa Food Bank was added to the list due to the pandemic. We wanted to be able to help the local community through this hard time by also fundraising for them. We wanted to give back to the community and the local people of Ontario that have been struggling through these hard times,” said Kaitlyn McEwen, an event management student at Algonquin College.

“The whole COVID situation forced a lot of bread earners out of their jobs and no income source to buy food supplies,” said Meghanna Tamma, another event management student working in the same team as McEwen. “They started relying hugely on the Ottawa Food Bank resource tools to satisfy their hunger and feed their families.”

In the past, these events were made possible by the generosity of the Ottawa business community which donated gifts for auction. Sponsors have included restaurants, hair salons, hotels and more.

“The way the students make money is that they sell tickets. It may be $50 or $60 or in some cases $80 a ticket because they were getting a three- or four-course meal and wine, and we would have an auction table and different raffles that people would participate in at the event while they were being entertained. It was an experience that people were willing to pay for,” said Sandy Oullettes, the event management program co-ordinator.

The real challenge this year – businesses have suffered under the lockdown and can’t afford to sponsor, and there will be no ticket sales. How will the students raise money if they are not able to sell tickets?

“Now, as far as raising money, we are opening it up to the world. Anybody can attend these events. They are going to be free of charge. What the students are going to do is set up a GoFundMe page for each event,” said Oullettes. When you donate, you will be giving to all four charities.

There are four events planned.

First is the Virtual Bar Crawl on July 22, where participants will visit different bars in the Byward Market, learn mixology and listen to live music.

On July 23, McEwen, Tamma and their team will host “Rediscover Canada,” – a response to the movement by Canadians to spend their dollars travelling in their own country and buying Canadian products. It will have live entertainment and showcase what Canada has to offer.

“Our event is based on the concept of exploring the hidden places or revisiting the ones that you have already been to within Canada,” Tamma said. “We are trying to give the public that is sitting at home, bored and deflated about the travel restrictions that don’t allow them to go anywhere in this beautiful weather, an experience of travelling in their own backyard virtually.”

The next event is on July 25 and will focus on getting you back in touch with your inner child through games, trivia, SHAZAM, and more.

Finally, on July 26, a group of international students from India will be showcasing the culture of India. They have comedy, people performing songs and dance and will have a sand-art demonstrator and trivia.

The events will be accessible through social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram.