‘Community Chest’ brings in $19,000

Drawing a sold-out crowd of more than 270 people, the 10th-annual “Community Chest” benefit dinner held Sunday night at La Place Rendez-Vous raised about $19,000 to provide financial aid to local families facing medical expenses.
The guest speakers for the evening all said they had no doubt the money raised for the “Community Chest” year after year goes to a very worthy cause.
Wayne Woods, CEO of Riverside Health Care Facilities, Inc., lauded the “Community Chest” and other local fundraising groups for helping district residents access health care services when Riverside can’t.
Woods explained Riverside operates hospitals in Fort Frances, Emo, and Rainy River, as well as Rainycrest and 30 non-profit supportive housing units. It has an annual budget of $60 million and employs 600 people providing a broad spectrum of health care services.
And while part of Riverside’s mission is to provide “Care Close to Home,” Woods admitted it’s not always possible to do that.
“The biggest challenge that we face internally is the constant struggle to balance the needs of the population with what we can afford to do,” he remarked.
While the district now has state-of-the-art hospitals, which provide better health care than ever with the aid of telemedicine technology and the like, there’s still some treatments and procedures that are not yet possible.
“Riverside does a lot of good things. We really try,” Woods stressed. “But there are things that we miss, and I want people to understand that we don’t miss them intentionally.
“We miss them because a). we can’t afford them; and b). the volume isn’t there to justify the program; and c). when we try and introduce a new program, we need the blessing of the Ministry of Health and of the newly-formed LHIN,” explained Woods.
The new CT scanner, for instance, which the district so quickly raised money for last year, was held up by the “loops” of bureaucracy, he noted.
“Even if you have the money in your hand, it doesn’t mean you can do exactly what you want,” Woods remarked. “It doesn’t make sense, but that’s the way the system works.”
Woods added that “Riverside has been extremely fortunate” to be supported by district residents as it has, adding he’s never seen a community so generous—whether it’s donations of money or volunteer hours.
“Unfortunately, we can’t meet all the needs of the community. That’s where these organizations up behind me on the wall help out,” he noted, referring to the groups which comprise the “Community Chest”—the Knights of Columbus Council 2766, Fort Frances Kiwanis Club, Fort Frances Lions Club, the “Spirit of Christmas” committee, Legion Ladies Auxiliary Br. #29, and La Place Rendez-Vous.
“These are your friends, these are your neighbours, these are your families,” said Woods, encouraging people to give money to the “Community Chest” to “help people that you know, people that really need it.”
The evening also featured a warm “thank you” from Danielle and Peter Spuzak, whom the “Community Chest” assisted last year.
“As of this past November, our lives have been changed forever,” said Danielle Spuzak.
“On Nov. 10, we had a beautiful baby boy. He was to be born at a low birth weight, and finding this out, we had to be air ambulanced to the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre.
“Our stay in Thunder Bay was to be about two or three weeks because our son had to be in ICU,” she noted. “Our only worry was for the health of our baby. We had no time to worry about anything else.
“Not knowing many people in Thunder Bay made it difficult to find a place to stay,” recalled Peter Spuzak. “A couple nights we were stuck in a hotel room.
“Everyone knows how quickly the cost of that can add up, plus the cost of food and unexpected medical expenses,” he added.
“Danielle’s aunt, Bonnie Broman, told our story to Linda Hamilton and the ‘Community of Chest.’ Without asking for help, the ‘Community Chest’ offered us financial assistance and a place to stay close to the hospital,” he said.
“With that being said, Danielle and myself and our beautiful little boy, Peter Jr., along with the support of our family, greatly appreciate what the ‘Community Chest’ has done for us.
“When life takes turns you don’t expect, it’s comforting to know that your community has organizations like this . . . to help people in need,” he stressed.
“We’re very proud to be here tonight to show our appreciation and offer our own support to the Fort Frances Community Chest.”
The “Community Chest” benefit dinner is organized each year by members of the Knights of Columbus Council 2766, Fort Frances Kiwanis Club, Fort Frances Lions Club, the “Spirit of Christmas” committee, Legion Ladies Auxiliary Br. #29, and the Rendez-Vous staff.
Accordingly, the evening featured brief presentations by representatives from each of these groups, including Kiwanis past-president Robert Sletmoen, Lion Al Carrier, K of C Deputy Grand Knight Jerry Darvell, “Spirit of Christmas” committee member Linda Hamilton, Legion ladies’ president Sylvia Gunderson, and Georges Blanc of La Place Rendez-Vous.
All of them pledged their continued support as partners in the “Community Chest” and Gunderson, on behalf of the Legion Ladies Auxiliary, handed over a cheque for $1,000 to the “Community Chest.”
Sunday evening’s dinner marked Blanc’s last official duty as co-owner of La Place Rendez-Vous. He has retired, and his share of the ownership will be transferred to Paul and Diane Noonan as of March 1.
“This is not a retirement party, but Linda and I are looking forward to relaxation, doing a little bit of travel and doing the things that we like to do, although we will continue to be actively involved in the community,” Blanc said Sunday.
“I would at this time like to pay tribute to Paul and Diane Noonan who will, after the first of March, be the sole owners of this beautiful establishment,” he added.
“I know they’ll take it in directions Paul and I never thought of. Maybe with Diane working with him, they’ll reach some new heights and introduce things we’d never thought of before.”
Larry Cousineau once again was emcee for the evening, keeping the mood light with a few jokes, while Pastor Brian Keffer of Zion Lutheran Church said grace before the meal.
The evening concluded with a live auction conducted by Lanny Cross. This, along with a silent auction, penny auction, a “Baker’s Dozen” raffle, and a “Mystery Chest” raffle, featured numerous prizes donated by local individuals and businesses.
(Something new this year, the “Mystery Chest” was a large wooden chest made by Bryan Calder and filled with all sort of gifts. It was won by Lori Pattison).
As in past years, Rendez-Vous staff donated their time to prepare and serve the meal. This time around, they were helped out by several Fort Frances Muskie cheerleaders.
As well, all of the food served was donated by the Rendez-Vous’ suppliers to reduce costs and thus maximize proceeds.
Last year, the “Community Chest” gave out 154 cheques to individuals in need totalling $54,582.73.
Over the past 10 years, the “Community Chest” has raised more than $250,000 and handed out 1,500 cheques.