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Stefa Katamay, chair of the Victoria Grandmothers for Africa, riding in the 2019 Cycle Tour.Handout

The organizers: Victoria Grandmothers for Africa

The pitch: Raising $141,000 for the Stephen Lewis Foundation

The COVID-19 pandemic has curtailed fundraising activities for many charities but a group of women in Victoria has managed to find a way to raise more money than ever for their cause.

The Victoria Grandmothers for Africa usually holds a three-day bike ride every August from Campbell River, B.C., to the provincial capital. The ride covers about 275 kilometres and the event raises money for the Steven Lewis Foundation’s Grandmothers to Grandmothers campaign, which funds a variety of educational and health care services in Africa.

Road restrictions mean the group normally has to limit the number of participants to around 30. When the pandemic hit last spring, the group moved the ride online and opened it up to as many women as possible.

Riders set their own goals and biked around their local area for four weeks. The organizers hoped everyone would cycle 18,107 km in total, the distance from Addis Ababa in Ethiopia to Cape Town in South Africa, which covers several communities where the foundation operates.

The response was overwhelming. A total of 67 women took part and covered nearly 28,000 kilometres. They raised just over $141,000 in total, the highest in the event’s 14-year history and nearly $20,000 more than last year. The group has now raised more than $1-million for the foundation since the first bike ride in 2007.

“We had so many people who would never consider riding 275 kilometres over three days,” said Stefa Katamay, who chaired the event and rode more than 600 km around her home in Victoria. “We had an 85-year-old woman who got on her bike for the first time in 25 years. We had a 75-year-old woman who got on a bike for the first time in 40 years. We had an 84-year-old who rode over 600 kilometres.”

Ms. Katamay said the virtual ride was such a success that the group is considering continuing it in future, likely in conjunction with the road tour. “What we’re hearing is that this virtual format where you could set your own distance really worked for a lot of people,” she said. “I don’t think we’re going to completely lose this virtual format in the future. It’s too inclusive.”