"Next time, let's just do a bake sale."
Those were the words spoken by one of my friends in the middle of the largest endeavour I have ever taken on. We had two weeks to go before our fundraiser, and both of us were thinking the same thing: What did we get ourselves into?
In June, 2007, our dear friend Anna found a lump in her breast. We were devastated. A few days later, after a series of blood tests, she received a phone call from her oncologist: "Anna and Gardie, you're pregnant."
Nolan was born after Anna's six rounds of chemotherapy. He was seven weeks premature, and facing a lifetime of challenges and expensive care. Both Nolan and Anna needed alternative treatments, some of which were not provided by our health-care system. Then Anna's cancer spread.
For two years, our team of five girlfriends would talk about doing something for this family that needed our help. They needed cash. We needed to hold a fundraiser. We set a goal of raising $20,000.
Over several months, we Googled, made phone calls and wrote e-mails. We needed to do this now. Where to begin? Finding a venue was our first priority. We found one and set a date: Sept. 18. Now what? None of us had ever done this before.
It was the beginning of June. We divided up the 500 tickets we had printed between our friends and volunteers. At $40 a piece, we would sell out in a couple of weeks, I thought. Who wouldn't want to help this cause? By this time, Gardie's best friend, who worked in wine sales, had jumped on board. "Let's see what silent-auction items I can get donated," he said.
One day at the end of June I came into work with my head hung low. I had all 25 of my allotted tickets tucked into a pocket of my wallet. My co-workers asked, "Jen, how are your fundraiser ticket sales going?"
With a tear almost rolling down my cheek, I replied, "We haven't sold any."
They both scurried to their purses: "I'll take one!" I was elated. Here you go - ticket 001 and ticket 002. I texted the others. Guess what? Only 498 to go!
Over the summer, we drank wine and we planned. We were all working at our regular jobs until 5 or 6 p.m., then tackling projects to get this fundraiser off the ground. We harassed our friends and partners' friends at soccer, baseball and work. We hosted fake TGIF parties with the ulterior motive of getting people to follow through with their commitment of attending. "Come over for drinks after work, and hey, do you have that money for the ticket to our fundraiser?" I kept thinking I was going to lose friends over this. I was starting to be annoying.
We carried on. I was sleeping about five hours a night. I was exhausted from what seemed like a never-ending battle. I couldn't wait to get back to my "normal" life. Then I thought, enough of that attitude. Anna battles more every single day of her now "normal" life.
I volunteered to organize, collect and store the silent-auction items. They came rolling in as fast as the friends who now wanted to buy tickets. Donations of golf packages, signed hockey jerseys and cases of wine were starting to pile up.
I was meeting my new boyfriend's parents from Calgary. After showing up late for dinner twice from dropping off tickets to people, I said apologetically, "I would have had you over for dinner but my apartment looks like a liquor store at the moment."
The Wednesday before the event, I sent an e-mail to the group: Jen's auction house is closed. Seriously folks, I can't even get through my front door. Anything that came in after 9 p.m. on Wednesday night would be a door prize.
Thursday morning, I received an e-mail. A bottle of wine had been donated from a private collection. It was signed by our entire NHL hockey team. I was reluctant yet full of excitement so I gave in. I thought of all the organic groceries Anna could buy with that item alone. I added it to the growing mountain of generosity in what used to be my apartment.
The morning of the event I woke up at 6 a.m. feeling excited, nervous and petrified. I thought to myself, "How are we going to pull this off?" I opened my inbox and there were four new e-mails from the group starting at 4 a.m. "We couldn't sleep either."
We set up the venue. We ran around while guests arrived. Anna and Gardie both spoke. There wasn't a dry eye in the house. We pulled it off.
My boyfriend and I cracked my first beer at home at 3:30 a.m. As we clinked cans I asked, "So, how was the party?" Being so far removed from that aspect of the evening I didn't even know if it was a success. He put his arm around me. "It was great," he said.
I stayed in bed until 1:30 p.m. the next day. I was feeling positive about our final numbers. The messages came pouring in - what a fabulous time. It was so well organized. Is this going to be a yearly event? I felt recharged.
I headed to my girlfriend's that night to start adding up our final numbers. It was midnight. We both had to get up at 6 a.m. the next day for work, but we couldn't believe our eyes. "I think we're going to hit $50,000," she said. We looked at each other. "We really underestimated ourselves. Maybe we should try and do this again next year."
"Let's get some sleep and revisit that idea in six months," I said. Deal.
Jen Milton lives in Vancouver.