Kelowna Canadian Italian Club president Joe Iafrancesco (second from right) with members of the club, Emma Rantucci, Romi Marcanio and Clelia Bertolani. Iafrancesco and his wife have donated more than $200,000 for projects at Kelowna General Hospital. —Image: Carli Berry/Capital News

Kelowna man’s donation to Kelowna hospital project shows every penny counts

Joe Iafrancesco donates thousands of pennies collected over 50 years, and $200,000 on top of that

When it comes to charitable donations—every penny counts.

For nearly 50 years Kelowna’s Joe Iafrancesco collected his spare pennies. And last month—despite the fact the Canadian penny is not no longer produced—he decided it was time to donate his wheelbarrow full of pennies to a worthy cause.

In total, Iafrancesco had collected 28,000 pennies over the years totalling $280. So, he and his wife Bianca decided to top up the collection with another $720 to make a $1,000 donation to help build and operate the new JoeAnna’s House at Kelowna General Hospital.

JoeAnna’s House is a home-away-from-home for out of town relatives of patients undergoing treatment at the hospital. Construction of the facility started last month. It is being funded through private and corporate donations.

But the donation of the pennies pales in comparison to other donations the Rutland couple have made to KGH.

RELATED: JoeAnna’s House construction breaks ground in Kelowna

After a long career with the Canadian Pacific Railway, Joe and Bianca decided it was time to take all of that hard work and pay it forward with two significant gifts to the KGH Foundation totalling $200,000 – half of the gift will go to support JoeAnna’s House, the other half has been dedicated to cancer care at KGH.

“This community has been a tremendous support to me for over 50 years,” said Iafrancesco. “We really wanted to give something back.

“The staff at the hospital have always provided my family and me with great care and I’m pleased to honour their work and help provide the tools needed to do their job to the best of their ability. I hope my gift will inspire others to consider their own impact within our community.”

Iafrancesco’s story was shared on the KGH Foundation’s Facebook page recently and caught the attention of many who expressed delighted in reading Joe’s penny collection donation story.

A long-time, well-known volunteer in the community, the donations are yet another way Iafrancesco has reached out to help those in his city.

He began supporting JoeAnna’s House by several years ago, spearheading a fundraising New Year’s Eve dinner and dance hosted by the Kelowna Canadian Italian Club. His interest and support of the project grew and 2018 will wrap up with another New Year’s celebration in support of the project.

A consummate volunteer, Iafrancesco is well-known around Kelowna for his dedication to community and has actively participated in numerous clubs from Rotary, Knights of Columbus and Lions Clubs, to his COIN Coffee and the Kelowna Canadian Italian Club. He has also served as a member of the local Crime Stoppers organization, the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Kelowna Association and the Uptown Rutland Business Association.

He was nominated twice for the Fred Macklin Memorial Award for Man of the Year in Kelowna and even tried his hand at politics, running for city council three times without success.

He also had an impact across Canada, volunteering with the Museum of Civilization in Ottawa, helping with the grand opening of Pier 21 in Halifax and serving on the National Congress of Italian Canadians both provincially and nationally.

“His commitment to our community and country is unparalleled,” says the KGH Foundation is a news release issued Thursday.

Family, or la famigilia, is a cornerstone of the Iafrancescos’ Italian culture and the their generosity will help to ensure that future patients have this essential support system nearby with the addition of JoeAnna’s House, says the foundation.

“Joe and Bianca are the most warm, genuine people you could ever meet,” said Chandel Schmidt, director of annual giving for the KGH Foundation.

“This gift is going to have a huge impact for generations to come. We are so grateful for their support.”

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