Going virtual has been a necessary evil for many of us during this pandemic — for the Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation, though, it has been wonderful.
“Our 50/50 program has really been an amazing success,” said Natalie Minckler, the executive director of the Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation.
“The response that we have seen from Albertans has been absolutely incredible.”
The online option was first offered during last year’s Stanley Cup play-in round, when one pot reached more than $15 million and Oilers fans crashed the system (the organization has since switched technology providers.)
Since then, prizes have dropped a little, but the EOCF is still bringing in millions more than it did before the lottery went online. So far this season, the community foundation says it has sold $30 million worth of 50/50 tickets.
Half the pot goes to the winner, the other half goes to the community foundation, which distributes the money to various charities and community groups.
Minckler said $15.5 million has already been distributed this year. In 2019, the organization said it gave out $4.3 million.
“The dollars we’re re-investing are so important, especially during these unprecedented times,” Minckler said.
The online option has been a life-saver for the foundation.
The Oilers haven’t had any fans attend games this season, so in-person 50/50s weren’t possible.
The community foundation also traditionally holds other fundraising events like golf tournaments or galas, but none of those were an option this year either. The online 50/50 has been its only source of revenue.
The charities who benefit from the community foundation are thankful the money has come in because they’re facing the same fundraising hurdles, and any of their own 50/50 attempts couldn’t bring in the same kind of cash as an Oilers one does.
“We’ve had some challenges as an organization over the last year trying to navigate and change with the times,” said Marjorie Bencz with Edmonton’s Food Bank.
“The public events that brought in lots of food when people went to them — we can’t do those either.”
The Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation partnered with various charities on certain game nights. Edmonton’s Food Bank received a portion of the $1,983,870 pot on March 10, when the team honoured the life of Walter Gretzky.
Marjorie Bencz says that night made a big difference for the Food Bank, as this year has seen demand increase at the food bank.
“Having cash and money come into us enables us to buy food, buy the things we need and carry on and do our business.”
The Central Alberta Child Advocacy Centre benefited from the 50/50 draw on May 1. The organization supports victims of child abuse and internet luring. They also offer help and resources to their families.
Mark Jones, the centre’s executive director, said he wants to expand programming but money has always been a limiting factor.
The night the Child Advocacy Centre was slated to receive a portion of the 50/50 receipts, Jones watched as the pot kept growing. At one point it was jumping $7,000 every minute and reached $1.86 million.
“It was just a gift that was unbelievable,” Jones said.
“We’re trying to put programing in place to help children and their families cope. [The 50/50 money] gives us the stability for a couple of years to put into action some of the dreams we had.”
Natalie Minckler points out the season isn’t over. Excitement is growing as the Oilers get ready for the playoffs and the hope is that excitement translates into even bigger 50/50 pots and even bigger transfers to charities.
The first couple of games of the playoffs will raise money for 40 different hospital foundations throughout northern Alberta. Minckler said the group wants to support front-line health workers during the pandemic.
The more money the lotteries bring in, the more requests the community foundation receives. Minckler said it’s difficult to choose where the money goes but given the challenges so many are facing, it’s a good problem to have.