Back in April, we reached out to five of our favourite local non-profits to see how they were faring through the lockdowns and how our community could best help them get through this very uncertain period. In what feels like a lifetime since then, these organizations and others have been adapting volunteer programs and finding new ways to fundraise safely; one great example of this resilience and positivity is the team at Ronald McDonald House Charities® Alberta (RMHC Alberta). They’ve taken on the pandemic with inspiring optimism and a fierce determination that the families they serve in RMHC Alberta’s four locations get the support they need, regardless of challenges.

Now, as we round the corner on fall and find winter coming in hot, this time of year would normally find the RMHC Alberta team busy with final prep for the Taste of Home Gala, a 400-500 person event that has represented a significant fundraising source for the past four years. Unable to move ahead as normal but undaunted nonetheless, the team has just launched Taste of Home – from Home, a super creative and, honestly, extremely delicious-sounding way to keep the Gala going for the fifth year.

To get all of the details about this exciting spin on the Gala, we spoke with Sandi Ferchau, Corporate Relations Manager at RMHC Alberta. While we were at it, we asked about what 2020 has been like for the organization so far, and how you can help them help families who are seeking vital medical care for a child. 

Because giving up was never an option. 

While a lot has changed, the pressure has been high, and adapting certainly hasn’t been simple, we were inspired by how positively Sandi spoke about these past months.

“There have been a lot of silver linings, as much as everything shifted,” she told us when asked about the pandemic fallout. 

While in-House programming and extra resources like craft rooms, dining rooms, and volunteers cooking meals had to be suspended during the initial lockdowns, families remained at each RMHC Alberta House throughout. 

“That’s our mission,” Sandi emphasized. “We’re here to serve those families, and we had to make it work.”

Not only did families remain at the existing three locations, but a fourth location, in Medicine Hat, was actually opened during the pandemic. This is just the beginning of the dedication that has gone into ensuring that the pandemic will not jeopardize the lifeline that RMHC Alberta offers to families going through incredibly difficult experiences.

In fact, this year’s shift of Hustle for the House, typically a large in-person walk/run event, to a virtual event was so successful that the team plans to include the virtual option again next year, pandemic or not. The 2020 virtual Hustle for the House took place between May and September all across Alberta and successfully raised over $250,000. Not bad for an unexpected reinvention, right?

Golf tournament fundraisers were still held around the province this summer, with the usual shotgun start replaced by tee times 10 minutes apart, and the typical large dinner replaced by staggered dinners right on the course.

The team also launched the Hero from Home campaign, which replaced the usual Home for Dinner volunteer program. With volunteers unable to come into the RMHC Alberta Houses to cook meals, a new drop-off version ensured that the families staying in these houses still had access to nutritious, delicious meals, despite the restrictions.  

Taste of Home goes home – to your home!

And that brings us to Taste of Home – from Home, the wonderful reimagining of their annual fall gala. Working against the clock to completely rebuild this event to work virtually, the successful launch feels slightly miraculous, and very inspiring. 

“We asked ourselves, ‘What can we do to keep the tradition going, to support the families in our Houses,’ ” Sandi told us. 

As with most things 2020, the answer was to go virtual – but how do you serve hundreds of people dinner virtually? Turns out, you make it a little like everyone’s favourite Saturday night activity (are we the only ones who consider ordering in an activity at this point?), only a lot more special and for a cause far more noble than saving us from having to cook.

Guests will be able to choose from a list of participating restaurants in their home city – available cities are Calgary, Edmonton, Medicine Hat, Red Deer, and Grande Prairie – with each offering a different option or options for the evening’s meal. Meals will be ready for pick-up between 5pm and 6:30pm on the day of the event, and guests outside these locations can also opt for a ticket that forgoes the meal portion of the event. The live gala programming – hosted by Dinner with Julie’s Julie Van Rosendaal – will start streaming at 7pm, and a virtual silent auction rounds things out. 

True to form, Sandi was quick to find another silver lining to the 2020 switch-up of the gala format. 

“Normally people can’t bring their kids to a gala – this year we can make it kid-friendly!” 

That’s right – there are kids’ tickets available, and special kids’ menu options as well. Sort of seems like the perfect bright side for an organization that’s all about supporting families while their little ones are receiving medical care, doesn’t it?

Tickets for Taste of Home – from Home are on sale now, and we strongly recommend you click over and grab yourself a ticket! While we’ve all had a tough year, sadly, serious childhood illness and injury and the incredible strain it puts on families didn’t stop just because COVID-19 made its unwelcome appearance. These families still need the support of RMHC Alberta, and of our community, now as much as ever.

Grab your tickets for Taste of Home – from Home right here.

Curious about other ways to help? We’re glad you asked. 

  • The Hero from Home campaign is still active, and you can find more information about donating a meal by clicking here
  • The RMHC Alberta Wish List – currently limited to essential items only due to COVID-19 – is a simple but super valuable way to support the House nearest you. Find the Wish List and more information here (currently one wishlist for all Houses). 
  • The Santa Sack program will be launching soon, giving you a chance to play Santa by picking up items from a detailed holiday gift wish list for children and adults staying with RMHC Alberta. This could be an amazing way to get your own kids involved in giving back by choosing the items you want to gift together. Watch RMHC Alberta’s Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter feeds for that launch soon! 
  • And of course, simple monetary donations are always an integral part of supporting the operational costs of running each House; find links for financial donation here.

All year and especially this holiday season, there are going to be so many extra challenges for the many non-profits in our city that vulnerable populations and those in difficult circumstances depend on so much. It’s been a tough one for all of us, in many cases financially as well as mentally, but we believe that there’s always something each of us can do to support one another. Give of your time, give of your expertise, or give of your resources; if we don’t support our non-profits through this, so many of them may not be around on the other side. 

If you want to share other ways that we and others can give back right now, we’d love to hear from you – drop us a note or leave a comment or message on our Facebook or Instagram.


All photos courtesy of Ronald McDonald House Charities Alberta.