Sitting in on the planning breakfast meeting for sponsors of the Maxine DeHart United Way Drive-thru Breakfast, Michael McKnight was given a reminder of the power of goodwill created when a community pulls together.
United behind the revival of the drive-thru event one more time, for McKnight, president and chief executive officer of United Way BC, said the community presence reflected around the Ramada Lodge banquet room on Wednesday morning (Aug. 31) was a stark contrast to the polarized anger and apathy that strains the common connections we all should feel to our communities.
“There has been a great polarization going on where wedges and issues are driving people apart in communities. I think (the drive-thru) really highlights both the need and the strength that comes from a community pulling together,” said McKnight.
“It was quite a thing to see the diversity of people in that room…to see people who have been long-time supporters of the drive-thru breakfast and the new people who want to be part of the event, which is wonderful to see.”
For McKnight, he sees the trend of self-isolation in communities, where neighbours don’t know each other, where people focus singularly on themselves.
“There is plenty of research out there that shows how volunteerism has been declining readily for decades across North America,” McKnight said.
“When people step up and do something beyond just thinking of their own life, their own family, that is a powerful force that enhances both your own life and that of your community…volunteerism is about doing things that benefit something beyond just ourselves.”
McKnight said the trend of recent years has seen the amount of money donated to charity causes increasing, while the number of people donating has decreased.
“So you are seeing more and more money coming from fewer and fewer people,” he said.
McKnight said he plans to attend the DeHart drive-thru breakfast on Oct. 6 for the first time, but he says the sponsor breakfast clearly illustrated to him why the event has been a phenomenal success.
For 20 years, the drive-thru breakfast raised more than $850,000 for local United Way supported agencies, with the final event in 2018 pulling in $110,053.
Maxine DeHart, a city councillor and driving force behind the drive-thru breakfast headquartered from her corner marketing director office of the Ramada Lodge Hotel, said a final hurrah for the event that was driven by participating sponsors wanting to do it one more time.
McKnight said that example of community spirit is something the United Way and other agencies relying on volunteer and fundraising support benevolence want to see be revived rather than disappear.
He said modern urban planning and technology has taken away opportunities for people to gather in their neighbourhoods, their communities and support one another.
“Urban planning has taken away the places where we would bump into each other. We now have drive-thru coffee places, drive-thru banking, even in the grocery store we order our food in advance and pick it up without having to get out of our vehicles.
“All those places where we traditionally connected with each other are being eliminated.”
He says concepts such as community gardens and farmers’ markets are examples of where people can re-establish that connectedness to people in their neighbourhood, in their community.
McKnight acknowledges this year’s drive-thru breakfast sets an optimistic tone for the United Way annual fundraising drive which launches this month, coming at a time when inflation is impacting the economy and community health and service needs keep growing.
“I think we continue to have a lot of optimism despite the challenges we face from the current economic times as we hope, as we have seen in the past, that people step up to help their fellow citizens in difficult times,” he said.
“For this particular event, from the United Way point of view, for all the people impacted by this event and the dollars raised and the people who come together to support it, we just want to say thank you to everyone involved.”
The Maxine DeHart United Way Drive-Thru Breakfast will take place Thursday, Oct. 6, at the Ramada Lodge Hotel parking lot, from 6 to 9 a.m., with 1,500 breakfast bags to be handed out.