From 4H steer sales and lemonade stands to lotteries and corporate galas, fundraising at STARS has always included a colourful array of events and campaigns.
When it all began three decades ago all STARS’ team members pitched in to help raise funds to get the organization up and running. Pilots sold baseball caps from the back of the helicopter while waiting for a patient, founding partners wrote tax receipts by hand, and the whole team took turns speaking about the importance of STARS at public events across Alberta.
Today, the STARS Foundation has a dedicated staff and nearly 500 volunteers focused on planning events in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba and assisting communities and organizations with their own initiatives.
Over the years, a culture of support and community involvement has developed and spread with each community-led fundraising event. For example, in Grande Prairie, AB, where STARS has operated since 2006, local businesses like Country Roads RV Park have found unique ways to provide support. Beginning in 2009, the Halwa family, who owns the park, created a corn maze on the property depicting the helicopter. They hosted an annual day of family fun, complete with country themed games and a corn roast, all in support of STARS.
Many other communities and organizations have added to this pool of support, holding golf tournaments, harvest suppers, bake sales, auctions, and trail rides in support of STARS. Over the past 30 years, events like these have helped STARS open bases in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, providing even more communities with helicopterair ambulance services, making STARS a household name across western Canada.
Longtime flight nurse Pat Jeffrey recalls escorting STAR Bear and STAR Junior in the Calgary Stampede parade one year. “All of these kids kept running up to me and dropping coins in the little red wagon I was pulling. It was heartwarming to see how excited they were to see us.”
This growing public support allowed STARS to develop annual campaigns and events including the calendar and the lottery. The calendar began 22 years ago when a print shop offered to help STARS raise money. The first year, STARS printed 5,000 calendars and sold them for $10 each. Today, STARS prints more than 100,000 calendars, makes more than 500,000 door-to-door visits and raises upward of $1 million annually.
The lottery began one year after the calendar has been just as successful. The first in Alberta offered a total prize package of $750,000 and sold out in three weeks. The Alberta lottery has sold out every year since and grown exponentially, with the 2015 lottery offering $5.3 million in prizes and a $3 million 50/50 draw.
The Saskatchewan STARS lottery, launched in 2012, also sold out in 2015, offering $4.1 million in prizes and a $1.5 million 50/50 draw.
The STARS Foundation continues to innovate, creating new campaigns and initiatives such as the STARS rescue events. Each year, a group of prominent locals is flown to a remote location where they participate in different survival challenges and raise funds for STARS using only their cell phones. Once they reach their donation goal, they are “rescued” by STARS. The rescues raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in a single day.
Corporate partners have played a large role in funding STARS over the last 30 years, especially when STARS opened new bases and expanded its fleet. Initial funding for the Emergency Link Centre was provided by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP).
Generous donations from PotashCorp and The Mosaic Company were instrumental for the opening of STARS’ bases in Regina and Saskatoon. The STARS and Spurs Gala hosted by the Petroleum Services Association of Canada (PSAC) has raised more than $11.5 million since it began. STARS has come a long way in the last 30 years and as we look forward we know you will be there for us as we will be there for you.
“Since the very beginning, every donation has mattered to STARS’ mission,” said Gurpreet Lail, executive director, Alberta for the STARS Foundation. “Whether it’s a child donating her allowance or a corporation making a multi-year commitment, we couldn’t do this without each and every one of you.”