The annual Wendy’s DreamLift Day fundraiser is a unique success because the people behind it are doing it “for all the right reasons,” said the executive director of the Orange Country Sherriff’s Department.
Marilyn MacDougall said the one-day fundraiser is in support of the Sunshine Foundation’s one-day trip to Disneyland for children between the ages of 3 and 18 who are challenged by severe physical disabilities or life-threatening illnesses.
“This event is unique. Restaurants will do fundraisers where they donate a portion of the proceeds to a given charity,” MacDougall said.
“But to see the dedication of John Tietzen and (Wendy’s) franchise partners behind this, to see the staff donate their time and wages, to see people willing to wait patiently for up to 45 minutes in line for a hamburger…that is unique and something that is all about giving from the heart.”
MacDougall will be joined by five members of the sheriff’s department helping out behind the counter for the annual DreamLift Day at Wendy’s restaurants in Kelowna, West Kelowna, Vernon, Kamloops, Penticton and Salmon Arm.
MacDougall is responsible for all civilian and community related activities with the department’s 32 city jurisdictions within the Orange County area, which covers a population base of about 3.2 million people.
She also heads up the volunteer and organizing effort on the ground at Disneyland and getting to and from the airport.
That can be complicated by increased travel restrictions, such as the need for every child to have a passport and to be dealt with by the Orange Country Airport security personnel.
When the plane lands in Orange Country, transportation is organized to transfer the kids and their Orange Country Sheriff’s Department volunteers—there is usually one volunteer per child and sometimes two—from the airport tarmac to Disneyland.
The volunteers are matched up with the DreamLift participant, and loaded on caravan of buses bound for Disneyland.
Throughout the day, there is a constant need to be ready to deal with medical issues, such as children who suffer from illness symptoms such as seizures or require oxygen tanks to assist with their breathing.
And then the challenge again is to get the visiting children back on the buses at the end of the day, back to airport, dealt with by security and up in the air before the airport’s evening noise restriction takes effect at 10 p.m.
MacDougall said her day starts at the airport at about 6:30 a.m., and she releases her last volunteer crew by about 8:30 p.m.
She said about 125 volunteers from the sheriff’s department take part in the event, and there is a waiting list of staff willing to give up a day off to participate in the event.
She said the challenge to match the kids up with the right volunteers. Appreciation also has to be given to the fact many of the participating kids have never traveled without their parents.
“When they arrive, they’re so excited to be going to Disneyland but also a little overwhelmed,” she said. “But it’s amazing to see how in just a few hours the bond that develops between DreamLift child and our volunteers.”
That bonding experience is often evident by the emotions that are exhibited by the adult and child when it’s time to say good-bye at the end of the day.
“I know families that have built lasting friendships from being a part of this,” MacDougall said.
“I always tell people it’s something you can’t really explain, you just have to experience it to appreciate what this is all about.”
The DreamLift Day fundraiser starts at 6 a.m. today and continues until 10 p.m. The next DreamLift flight for children from B.C.’s southern Interior is scheduled for this December.