Sweet As "Honey" - Life as a Wellness Association Fundraiser

by Stacy Thomas | May 6, 2020

You see them outside grocery stores. You see them at malls. You see them at trade shows, conventions and fair grounds. Anywhere the public goes, you will find them standing at tables, smiling, reaching out, and most likely asking for donations.

They are fundraisers, and while they all have the same goal of raising as much money as they can for their cause, they are all there for different reasons; from wanting to help to wanting to connect with others, to just simply believing in a cause.

That’s what drew Marge Downing to the job—that feeling of helping and doing something worthwhile.

After retirement from her life as a pastor, Downing was working as a cashier at a grocery store in Red Deer when she noticed a Neurological Wellness Association “Wellness Ambassador” working at a table outside the store. Intrigued, she chatted with the fundraiser, asked about the cause, and checked out the website.

“One thing led to another and I ended up working for them. The biggest thing was the cause. I believed in the cause. So I wanted to go fund raise for it. And I believed in the people. [Founder] Eric Halstrom has a heart of gold and he wants to help people.”

In exchange for $20 donations which go toward helping to pay medical bills for services not covered by health care in Canada, Wellness Ambassadors give out jars of “Honey For Hope” raw honey produced in the Peace region of British Columbia.

After suffering from a condition which her doctor had been unable to diagnose, a friend of Downing’s recommended a Chinese medicine doctor. Six months later, her symptoms were gone and she was a believer in complementary alternative medicine.

That experience helps fuel Downing’s passion for fundraising for the Wellness Association. “Before, I didn’t believe in natural medicine, but after that I was sold,” she said. “Because I know it works. I think you really have to believe in what you’re doing.”

When fundraising manager Brandon Galarneau learned about the Wellness Association and how they are helping people, he knew he had found a cause he could get behind. A former fundraiser for the Iron Society Independent Riding Club in Alberta, Galarneau had injured his arm in an accident and was looking for another way to give back. He had previously been a medic in the oil fields in Northern Alberta.

“It was a really nice outlet, a way that I could still contribute where I didn’t have to be actually pulling people out of danger and that kind of stuff,” said Galarneau.

His own story was a motivator to sign on with the Wellness Association. With a mother with Huntington’s disease and an autistic brother, Galarneau was naturally drawn to the role.

“My personal life has essentially always been the same thing. I’ve always been looking after somebody,” said Galarneau.

“Having a passion for helping—for me it makes it way easier to want to continue. Even if you’re having a crappy day, knowing that somebody is going to benefit, someone who is in some sort of situation where they can’t manage to pay for something themself.”

A passion for helping. It’s this passion that interests Wellness Ambassador Darrell Ellens when he’s out on the street talking to people. Especially younger people.

“I tend to ask a lot of young people where they learned to donate. I come from a very poor family. So we never donated. We were the ones who walked on by. So if somebody donates $20 for honey, and they’re twenty years old, I want to know—when did you start giving, how did you learn to give?”

He mentions a young man who came to his table to buy a jar of honey in honour of his father who had just passed away. His father always gave, the youth said, and he was now donating to carry on that tradition. It’s these stories of giving that are the reason Ellens shows up to fundraise.

Even the people who don’t donate, or who ignore or even challenge the fundraisers, Ellens harbours no hard feelings. Maybe they volunteer, he says. Or maybe they’re going to visit their friend in the hospital later and they’re going to donate to the Cancer Society.

A positive outlook is absolutely essential when you’re fundraising. Focussing on the rewards of the hours spent outside in all kinds of weather chatting with strangers.

And what are the rewards? For Ellens it’s about getting out there, talking to people, spreading positivity.

After experiencing panic attacks resulting from anxiety and depression, he began counselling. This therapy helped to set him back on course and he still goes today—in fact he just started online therapy sessions.

“That’s what really got my heart involved with the Wellness Association,” he said. And it’s all of the positive interactions and moments of true generosity that keep him motivated and inspired.

“For me, for fundraising, you can’t count your ‘nos’. You have to focus on your ‘yesses’,” said Ellens.

“If you want to go out there and have fun everyday, the numbers end up where the numbers end up. Better make sure you’re having fun and talking to everybody, and that’s doing your job. You should be able to go to work and have a great day, regardless of whether you raised a thousand dollars, five hundred or two hundred.”

And while the goals of the whole team are always paramount, those big personal days still feel great, says Galarneau.

“The total for the day is the main goal, we want everyone to have success. But when you have a killer day it’s hard to not get pumped about it,” he said.

“Knowing that you’re helping is a good one. Once you break a thousand dollars a day. It feels really good to know, that’s ten people in one day that are going to get some help of some kind.”

-Stacy Thomas