A popular charity event that allowed local children with physical disabilities and life-threatening illnesses fly to Disneyland for a day of worry-free fun has been grounded.
Wendy’s Dreamlift Day fundraiser is over and it’s still unclear whether dollars raised in its name earlier this year will see any local kids get a chance to get aboard a plane and soar away to Disneyland.
The fundraiser has been a community staple for 20 years and saw Wendy’s restaurants in Kelowna, West Kelowna, Kamloops, Salmon Arm, Vernon and Penticton donate a day’s worth of profits and wages to the Sunshine Foundation of Canada, which then sent Okanagan kids with a variety of challenges to Disneyland.
The last fundraiser raised $108,000 for the foundation, and a flight out of Kelowna, destined for Disneyland, was expected to be on the books for January 2015, given that flights have historically left the valley en route to Disneyland every second year and the last one happened in 2013. The Orange County Sherriff’s department, which lends members to help local kids as they disembark the planes for a Disney adventure, has indicated that they’ve been told that their help is not needed this year.
Sunshine Foundation of Canada representatives have failed to answer calls about this matter, however, a foundation communications officer indicated to Capital News sister paper, the Vernon Morning Star, that something was in the works.
“Sunshine will continue to fulfill dreams for kids in the region and wishes Park Inland Restaurants success as they provide support for other deserving charities,” said Tristan Joseph, Sunshine Foundation of Canada communications officer.
“We certainly hope that there will be more Sunshine Dreamlifts serving kids in the Okanagan…At this point, we don’t have definitive information on when that might be. Sunshine will continue to fulfill individual dreams for kids in the Okanagan.”
As for the fundraiser, it will still happen, just for a different cause.
“Now it’s time to help out other groups in need,” said Wendy’s chain owner Ken Park.
“We are going to shift our charitable giving to align with the other 51 Wendy’s restaurants in B.C., the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption.”
The foundation’s goal is to find “loving and permanent families for children who are lingering in the Canadian foster care system in B.C.”
Park said that as a father to two teenagers, the idea of children not having a home is particularly heart wrenching, and that’s why he’s shifting gears.
It’s still an unexpected shift.
When Park bought the restaurant chain from John Tietzen, who founded Dreamlift Days in 1995, he said Dreamlift Day wasn’t going anywhere.
“I’m pretty comfortable because Ken wants to keep our legacies. He paid to keep the name Inland Restaurants. In our office we have a lot of historical pictures—he wants copies of all of those to be kept on the wall. He’s keeping all the staff, managers, regional office staff and area partners—the only person that’s leaving is me,” Tietzen said in 2012, noting that Dreamlift, in particular, was safe with Park.
“I think he’s very respectful of what we’ve built here and who we are.”
Park himself said that the community ties to the event were remarkable after witnessing his first Dreamlift Day.
“I spent the entire day watching, observing and learning. I thought: Wow, this is nothing like I’ve seen before…there is a lot of emotional attachment to this event,” Park told a Capital News reporter in 2013.
Park admits that he did say the tradition would carry on when he first took the company’s reins, but he doesn’t have any second thoughts about initiating the change, pointing out that the children that will be helped by the charity are also in the community.
“We remain focused and committed to giving to the community,” he said. “I hope our community still supports Wendy’s. We are still going to donate our wages, and have an event, we’re just giving to a different group. Without Kelowna’s support we can’t make the event successful.”.
Over its 20 year run the event raised over $1.4-million dollars, and enlisted the help of countless community members.