Cancelled charity fundraisers putting strain on local families
LONDON, ONT. -- Many families in southwestern Ontario rely on funds raised from summer charity events like golf tournaments to improve their daily lives, but during COVID-19 the majority of those fundraisers have been cancelled, leaving many people trying to come up with creative ways to keep money coming in when the expenses it keep going out.
London, Ont.-native Mario Vella has suffered from ALS for nearly 25 years.
The hydraulics broke recently on his wheelchair, which put his family in a bind.
The lift on his chair is essential, as it allows him to stand, making it much better for his own comfort, and that of his caregivers.
"We use the chairlift multiple times per day," says Kendall Saravanamuttoo, one of Mario's caregivers. "He is standing up and down to do his supplements, and we use to brush his teeth. It is a lot easier to do standing up, so obviously if the chair isn't able to do that, he has to stay sitting down."
When it broke down, getting it fixed immediately wasn't easy.
"When the elevation standup didn't work, we had to get a new part, but we couldn't order it before we paid them full price which was $7,000," says Fred Vella, Mario's dad.
When COVID-19 hit in March, it came just days before his annual dinner and dance. That was cancelled and so was his annual golf tournament in June, which brings in thousands of dollars.
Now family and friends have had to be creative to raise any money they can.
This Saturday, July 11, they are holding a bottle drive at the Forest City Community Church in Lambeth, where Mario attends service.
"From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. we are encouraging people to drop off empties, whether it be wine bottles, cans or refundables," says Mark Thomas, whose wife was a former schoolmate of Mario's.
They are holding a 50/50 raffle and physically distanced get-together to help his family.
"Many charities and causes have taken huge hit due to COVID-19," adds Thomas. "If you've met Mario, he’s just the most genuine, incredible, loving, giving guy in the world, so it was a no-brainer to do this for him."
Ryan Fedurco of the ALS Society of Canada, says, "The pandemic has made it a particularly challenging time for organizations like ours that rely on donations. Although in some instances we’ve adapted to virtual events, like the Walk to End ALS, we’re expecting to raise about half of what we would in a typical year,"
He adds that there have also been increased costs to deliver services to those affected by ALS, and they are having to make choices about how to allocate resources to things like research and advocacy.
For Mario, it is not only his wheelchair which is suffering from mechanical issues.
"It seems to never end," says Fred. "We need a new van now too and that costs $70,000, but thankfully we did get a large donation to cover some of it."
Mario is one of Canada's longest-living ALS survivors. He needs 24/7/365 care as he can't eat, walk, talk or breathe on his own.
However he still enjoys being active in the community, "In the summer we are always sitting in the sun," says Saravanamuttoo.
"Before COVID hit, we were going to London Knights games, concerts and outdoor events like Sunfest. A working van is very important to get us there," Fred adds.