By Meggie Sylvester
When Matt Stepchuk graduated from the business administration program in 1987, organizing Ottawa’s Great Pumpkin Charity Ball was far from his priority list.
Following graduation, Stepchuk was hired as the first communications officer for the Students’ Association and the first to develop a student information day-timer called Insta-Guide.
Stepchuk also produced the bi-weekly newsletter InfoConnection which aimed to promote information about the college to students and outside resources.
“I spent two and half years after graduation setting up the first real infrastructure for communications inside the college,” said Stepchuk.
“It was a really dynamic and interesting first step to my career.”
Stepchuk left Algonquin in 1990 and began working for a publication task force at Industry Canada and worked alongside Patricia Goodman, who printed Canada’s Constitution and both Quebec referendums.
It wasn’t until seven years ago that Stepchuk started managing Ottawa’s Great Pumpkin Charity Ball, an event that caters to 750 guests from across the city.
This year, the event was held on Nov. 1 at Saint Brigid’s Centre for the Arts in the ByWard Market.
Saint Brigid’s, which is located on the corner of St. Patrick and Cumberland in Lowertown, was a Roman Catholic parish that was open to the public in 1890.
According to the centre’s website, the parish served a community of Irish and French labourers who constructed the Rideau Canal.
Ottawa’s Irish community has since converted the building into a centre for the arts with $1.2 million in restoration, according to Stepchuk.
The venue was the perfect location for a Halloween party due to its architectural features that include limestone pillars and statues portraying the passion of the Christ.
“We didn’t even put up any decorations for the first two years because it just carried itself,” said Stepchuk.
“It’s like Dracula’s castle and the nicest place you can imagine to throw a party.”
This year, the basement of Saint Brigid’s was converted into a disco dungeon with local DJ AJDJ and intuitive numerology consultant Laura Young.
The upstairs portion included performances by cover band Hair Nation and $75,000 worth of laser light equipment.
But the event does more than just provide a gothic themed Halloween party.
Proceeds from the event go to the Canadian Cancer Society and the Canadian Association for Disabled Skiing in Edelweiss, Que.
“I started volunteering with Canadian Association for Disabled Skiing (CADS) about 13 years ago,” said Stepchuk.
“They are always scrounging for money and volunteers every year, so when I got involved in the charity ball, part of my parameters was that half the money would go to CADS.”
After raising ticket prices from $25 to $35 this year, Stepchuk is sure to have a record haul for the charity.
The ball also donates half of the proceeds to the Canadian Cancer Society and is dedicated to the memory of Julie Lachance.
Julie was the sister of Lise Lachance, the first to organize the event in 2005.
“When Lise’s sister got cancer, the Canadian Cancer Society really reached out to the family and it was something that she didn’t expect,” said Stepchuk.
“Just understanding that the society is there for the families, she wanted to give back.”
In October 2006, Julie succumbed to her battle with cancer and the event became too emotional for Lise to organize.
“Every time Halloween rolled around, it became very painful for her so she pulled out and I took over,” said Stepchuk.
When Stepchuk began looking for caterers, he thought of Algonquin’s culinary arts program.
“Instead of putting pretzels in a bowl, I’ve always wanted to have a quality experience,” said Stepchuk.
“Last year and being alumni, I reached out to the college and was lucky enough to catch them at the right time. They came in last year and did an unbelievable job.”
The event’s spirit of giving back doesn’t end there.
Stepchuk wanted to solidify the relationship between the gala and Algonquin.
“I asked, how can we make sure this always happens? So the college suggested a bursary and so we set up a $500 bursary and $500 for food costs,” said Stepchuk.
“It’s for a financially needy student who also demonstrates active volunteerism within the community, which is perfect because that’s what it’s all about.”
Second year student Robin Fenton acted as chef of the day and lead the class through their biggest production to date.
“Robin really had a big job today because she had to manage production for 750 people,” said exectuive chef and teacher Robert Gelinas.
“She gained a lot of valuable experience today because she’s possibly able to run a hotel kitchen or large banquet facility.”
Floor manager Charles McIvor was particularly happy with the fusilli pasta, soft rolls and mixed green salad served to volunteer staff.
“They provided a delicious meal for lunch during the day and a delicious dinner for the volunteers at night,” said McIvor.
Kurtis Ritz is a graduate from the police foundations program who acted as head of security this year and last.
“When we got police foundations involved last year for the first time, we had the most solid security team ever,” said Stepchuk.
Despite the event’s time commitment, Stepchuk was more than happy to coordinate it.
“Administering this party is just like in the movies when someone gets an injection and everything goes nuts, but then you pop out on top and we popped out amazingly tonight,” said Stepchuk.
Some of the best costumes included Austin Powers, Captain Jack Sparrow and Paris Hilton.
For more costume ideas and event information, check out ottawapumpkinball.com.