General Manager at Original Joe’s Whitecourt Christina Marinelli is one step closer to achieving her goal of holding twelve fundraisers in one year. This time around, restaurant staff are setting their sights on teachers and school staff at one area school. After selecting a school through a random draw, Marinelli revealed that Central School staff would be on the receiving end this time around.Serena Lapointe, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

By Serena Lapointe, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Published Oct 25, 2021

Intending to complete twelve fundraisers in one calendar year, the general manager of Original Joe’s Whitecourt, Christina Marinelli, is looking to spread some community love to the teachers and staff of Whitecourt Central School. “Teachers have been through the wringer with back and forth, online learning, in classroom learning and trying to wrangle kids during a pandemic. I really cannot imagine how difficult that must be, and they have great attitudes about it all from what I’ve ever seen. We wanted to do something to thank them.”

Trying to decide which school to surprise was a tough call. “We put all the schools in a bowl, and we randomly drew one because we knew we couldn’t pick one.” Marinelli said once Central School was picked, they called them to find out how many staff they have, including teachers, support staff, administration and janitorial. The total was 44.

“We had an idea similar to the fundraiser we ran this past February where we made some gift baskets and sold them to raise money. This time, we thought we would ask for donations from local businesses to make gift bags,” she explained. “We are accepting whatever people can give us. We will make it work and build the gift bags. We will make use of everything we receive. Local vendors have given us gift cards, edible goods, jewellery, all kinds of different items.”

The plan is to donate the gifts on November 1. However, it doesn’t end there. “We wanted to do something to make their lives a little easier too. One of my staff had the idea that school supplies are often in short order, whether that’s because teachers only get certain amounts, and they have to make it work or whether some students didn’t have enough sent with them. Whether it’s lost or left at home, or whatever the case might be. We thought we would do a school supplies drive at the same time to make the staff’s lives easier and the children’s lives better.”

To accomplish this double feat of generosity, Marinelli said that they have set up a table in the restaurant which displays the fundraiser information and some donations they have received. It also showcases some of the businesses that donated to the gift bags. “We’ve been asking our guests at the restaurant and local businesses if they can contribute to our school supplies drive. We have an amazing amount of supplies right now.”

She said they will continue to accept supply donations until the day before they deliver. “Anyone can drop off at the restaurant until October 31,” said Marinelli. “If anyone wants to donate to the gift bags, they can donate for that up until the same date. Even if someone has one thing to donate, we will find a spot for it.” 

Marinelli said that they have a fabulous draw happening to thank those who donate towards the school supplies drive. “We reached out to the local vendors we use, as far as liquor supplies, to see if they would like to donate towards a prize pack.” She said they received swag items, including a Yeti cooler worth a pretty penny. “Whoever donates school supplies or who donates a two-dollar donation will get a ticket into the draw to win that grand prize.”

With things slower at the restaurant, Marinelli said fundraisers had been a welcomed distraction for staff from the craziness of the outside world. “With the new restriction exemption program, it’s really dropped our volume here at the restaurant, and we’ve had to lay off staff once again. They’ve been through the wringer through the last round of layoffs and now this round again. I wanted to do something to remind us all that we can create positivity around us even when things are looking pretty bleak, and we can look at the positives and be a catalyst for good while this uncontrollable thing is happening around us.”

The good vibes that follow a donation like this will impact everyone involved, and Marinelli said that everyone needs to feel that goodness. “If you are giving out gratitude, it comes back to you. I need to give my staff a special day, something to look forward to. I want them to feel like they are part of cheering people on, doing good meaningful work in our community. We are excited to have that happy day.”

Not only do her staff at Original Joe’s Whitecourt feel the warmth, but so do customers. “Fundraisers like this allow our guests to feel part of something bigger than themselves. The time our staff spends on fundraisers is all happening on personal time. We hope that the teachers and staff at Central School feel the love on November 1 when we drop off their gift baskets and all the supplies.” She said that community-driven fundraisers bring everyone together, and she thanks everyone for donating and being part of it.

“We have an amazing huge table of supplies, and my office is filled with stuff for the teachers and staff. We are building this momentum ahead of delivery day. It builds up this creative, exciting energy, and I feel like it carries out to others and helps everyone feel positive and motivated to keep going.”

Those looking to join the fun can drop off school supplies such as dry erase markers, pencils, glue sticks, duo tangs, post-it notes or anything else to Original Joe’s Whitecourt by close on October 31. The same goes for those wanting to donate something towards the gift baskets. “Thank you!”

This item is reprinted with permission from Whitecourt Press.

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