That’s how much money has been raised from the annual Maxine DeHart United Way Drive-Thru Breakfast over the past 19 years, United Way executive director Helen Jackman revealed at the recent sponsors’ organizing breakfast meeting for the upcoming 20th and final drive-thru breakfast.
As that number echoed around the Ramada Hotel banquet room, the close to 100 sponsors in attendance rose up in applause, leaving Maxine DeHart fighting to hold back the tears while trying to orchestrate the meeting.
The emotion around the room in that moment reflected not only that the drive-thru fundraiser is coming to an end, but how much has been accomplished by DeHart and her sponsor supporters to benefit the Central Okanagan.
“You know what, I have been very lucky with the response from our sponsors and supporters. We always have gotten a big response. I knew what that figure was but when you hear someone else say it, it does hit home,” said DeHart, sitting down for an interview a week after the sponsors’ breakfast.
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It was a very emotional morning for me today. Thank you to United Way for the unbelievable tribute to me for the 20th Annual and Grand Finale of the Maxine DeHart – United Way – Ramada Hotel Drive Thru Breakfast. This years Drive Thru is October 11, from 6 to 9 am at the Ranada Hotel. It’s going to be incredible. Please join us and open your hearts and wallets for the GRAND FINALE! #unitedway #maxinedehartdrivethrubreakfast
With the decision by her and her core group of sponsors who have been with her since day one to make this year the final drive-thru on Thursday, Oct. 11, from 6 to 9 a.m., it has given many of them pause for reflection.
“I think at 9 a.m. on that Thursday morning, the emotional realization it’s over will be awful for me. It will be horrendous. I am now starting to think about that moment, that reality is coming,” DeHart said.
“I will be giving up my baby after 20 years. It will really be the pits, but the core group of sponsors who have been with me from the beginning all agreed it was the right time to move on. I’ve always said there is a best before date for everything. Best before date for milk, best before date for events and best before date for politicians.
“You have to know when it’s time to go. The United Way will carry on and have other fundraising ideas to pursue. We all felt it was a good time to cap it at 20 years.”
Terry Wardrop is the organizational mastermind behind staging the drive-thru, and DeHart acknowledges the event is just as much his event as it is hers.
“It is sad to be ending it but the amount of work that Max puts in to this while also being a councillor and hotel department manager, it is time. She has done it all. The event has been very successful and we want to go out with a big bang,” Wardrop said.
Dennis Mitchell, the retired owner of IGA in Rutland, said the sponsor breakfast was attended by about 100 people which he credits to the perseverance of DeHart.
“When we started that first year, there were 20 of us, so it’s absolutely incredible the growth that has happened since then,” Mitchell said.
Bill McKinnon, the retired Kelowna RCMP superintendent who currently works as a consultant for the City of Kelowna, is entering his 18th year supporting the event, and he too is sorry to see it end.
“It’s hard to believe one person could pull this off,” said McKinnon, speaking to DeHart’s dedication to the drive-thru.
DeHart first heard about the drive-thru concept at a United Way meeting in the Lower Mainland she attended with a delegation from Kelowna 20 years ago. She was about to enter the next year as president of the United Way fundraising campaign.
A video was shown telling the story of Sutton Place hotel in Vancouver, which held a relatively successful drive-thru event for two years before dropping it.
“I knew right off the bat we could make it work in Kelowna. We had all the components in place. A unique event nobody else was doing, a hotel to put it on with a big parking lot, as chair of the United Way campaign I could give it a public profile. In my heart, I just knew if I presented to people, they wouldn’t say no to supporting it. ”
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Driving back home to Kelowna, it’s all DeHart talked about for the three-hour trip.
“I had it all worked out except for the sponsors by the time we got home. The concept was there. Everyone was ready to throw me out of the van, they were so sick and tired of hearing me talk about it.”
While DeHart’s drive and passion to make the drive-thru a success is widely known in the community, she credits the sponsors for supporting her fundraising vision.
“I get excited and they get excited. I am very excitable but it rubs off. People buy in. I have made a lot of new friends and met hundreds of business colleagues I would otherwise probably have never met through this event.
“Whenever I have needed help with something, I pick up the phone and call and people have stepped up to help. I am not scared to go ask and sponsors see the drive-thru as something they want to be involved in.”
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That is reflected by the support roster which now sits at 100 major and 150 secondary sponsors.
She offers one example of orchardist David Hobson, who has since passed away. He wanted to get on board by donating apples to the breakfast goodie bags—all 1,500 of them.
“Dave washed and dried all the apples himself. None of us could believe it. We told him he could bring in the apples and we had volunteers that could help with that. But he wanted to do that himself.”
She also credits the support of her boss, Ramada Hotel manager Stan Martindale for the patience to put up with her time spent on the drive-thru and providing the premises as the host site, the Kelowna RCMP for their co-operation over the years dealing with traffic issues and United Way staff for their logistical support.
She says when the 20th drive-thru breakfast is put to bed and 1,500 breakfast bags full of donated items have been distributed, the lesson she takes away is that people can make a difference.
“I guess I have learned from this that no matter who you are, what position you hold or what you have, you can make a difference. You don’t have to have a million dollars to make a difference in your community.”
As for a fundraising target, DeHart says she will be asking for a little extra, for those who can afford it to dig a little deeper, for donations this year.
“The great thing about the United Way is all the money we raise stays in this community to help the 43 agencies they support, no matter how big or small. That has always been very important to me. I wouldn’t have donate otherwise,” she said.
“I have never set a fundraising target because you never really know until that two to three hours on drive-thru day what people will donate. It’s pretty incredible to think that all that money has been raised during a three-hour period once a year for the past 19 years.
“Some sponsors indicate they will donate cash ahead of time, but for the most part we have no idea what we will raise until people show up.”