Ponoka Festival of Trees exceeds expectations and delights

When it comes to community fundraising, Ponoka outshines them all as was seen last week during Ponoka’s Festival of Trees.

Marlin Wilson is extremely excited for what’s to come Nov. 19 during the Ponoka Festival of Trees’ Breakfast with Santa

When it comes to community fundraising, Ponoka outshines them all as was seen last week during Ponoka’s Festival of Trees.

The event brought members of the community together from Nov. 17 to 19 to bring operational funds to the Ponoka Hospital and Care Centre’s endoscopy program. Overall the goal is to raise $200,000 to ensure the program, which is seeing recognition across the province, can continue and grow. Money from the event goes to the Ponoka and District Health Foundation

While that number seemed like an impossibility during the opening night gala, a $46,000 donation from the Hospital Auxiliary dropped the gap drastically. And then with charity auctioneer Danny Hooper at the helm, the live auction that night brought in more than $70,000, says festival spokesperson Sherry Gummow.

Using fun and interesting ways, Hooper was able to bring about strong support for the foundation. In one case, he asked if someone had something they didn’t need. As it turns out, one person had a potbelly pig and sure enough it went up for auction.

The trick, to everyone’s delight, was to ask if the winning bidder actually wanted the pig. Which they didn’t. Hooper asked if they would be willing to pay $100 and pass it off to another unsuspecting good Samaritan. This happened several times until $2,100 was raised from the pig.

Before the full live auction event started, Hooper asked if there were individuals or businesses who wanted to make a separate donation. Again, people did. Starting with $5,000, then $2,500, then $1,000 and then $500; close to $20,000 was raised, and the special live auction items hadn’t even been called.

Health foundation chairperson, Dorothy Ungstad, was pleased with such a strong turnout. “(I’m) thrilled that there’s so many here and it’s beautiful with all the trees.”

Support is high. Indeed, Ungstad said the organization received a $130 donation from a resident before the festival. She says every penny counts and she is pleased with the support and buy-in.

During the live auction the big ticket items sold well with Laurie River Lodge’s all-inclusive getaway package going for $10,000, twice. Owners Brent and Erin Fleck donated two packages with one being bought by Ponoka County. The county in turn re-donated the package back to the festival, which was the original intention, in the hopes of generating more money to the festival.

Dr. Hilgard Goosen, who runs the program, said the the goal has always been to have a high quality endoscopy program. In this case to try and eliminate cancers before they become untreatable. His goal is to raise awareness for screening and then to treat any issues.

Once patients end up with Goosen, they get treated.

“It’s grown a lot,” said Goosen, who conducts endoscopy procedures two times a week.

Lisa Barrett, manager of acute care at the hospital, said while the program has grown over the years, the quality of work remains high. “He’s (Goosen) actually treating (early) cancer so there is no more treatment after that.”

Only very early cancers can be managed by endoscopic removal,” added Barrett. “Pre-cancerous lesions and the removal of them is the main focus of endoscopy.”

The goal for Goosen is to maintain the high standard that people are used to with quality equipment and a strong team, and the festival helps continue that incentive.

The full amount raised was not available at press time considering the silent auction items had not yet been tallied, but a cheque presentation is set for 1 p.m. on Dec. 4 at the Calnash Ag Event Centre upstairs classroom, which is open to the public.

***A clarification was made to this story to point out that only early cancers can be managed by endoscopic removal.***