Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

My umbrella has boas, should have had bacon

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I openly admit I know nothing about modern art, but I have a great deal of expertise when it comes to the highly competitive area of umbrella decorating.

I discovered my artistic abilities in this unique area last week when I joined a group of local media and sports personalities for a hard-hitting charity competition at the Canada Safeway outlet in Osborne Village.

The genius concept was we would go head-to-head in an umbrella-decorating contest to kick off the grocery giant's annual April fundraising campaign wherein all donations collected during the month go to help Manitoba children with disabilities.

I have no idea why we were asked to decorate umbrellas, but I am led to understand that, in certain highly educated circles, they are considered an important symbol of spring, which is good to know.

If you have never decorated an umbrella before, I can tell you it is far more hazardous than working with aprons, which is what they gave us to decorate last year.

Basically, you have to hold your umbrella in a vise-like grip with one hand, then use your free hand to festoon it with balloons, stickers, crepe paper, butterflies, flowers, confetti and bacon. I am not kidding about the bacon. In the middle of the contest, a shopper handed me a package of ready-to-serve bacon, which mysteriously ended up glued to the umbrella belonging to Samantha Stevens from QX 104, who was decorating beside me.

Also, it is extremely difficult to decorate a pointy-tipped umbrella without causing a severe injury to the person next to you. Had you been there, you would have heard helpful decorating tips such as: "Could you hand me the glue...OMYGAWDYOUSPEAREDMEINTHEEYEBALL!!!"

On the upside, our amazing decorating skills helped launch Safeway's April fundraising drive, which has raised more than $6 million since 2008, including more than $725,000 in Manitoba. In this province, the cash goes to SMD Foundation/Easter Seals Manitoba and Special Olympics Manitoba.

Tammy Hildebrand, SMD's director of development, said the cash funds a host of activities, including camping, leisure and recreation programs for kids dealing with disabilities.

"It's a huge deal for us," Tammy told me. "In one month, we get about $165,000 and a chance to educate the public. It means sledge hockey, power-wheelchair hockey, independence for youth and day and night camps."

I think I might have actually won this year if I had not relied so heavily on feather boas. At one point, we had to describe our works of art, and here's what Bombers star quarterback Buck Pierce told the crowd: "I just decorated mine with whatever was left over on the table. I was going to go with a boa until I saw Doug's umbrella. I think he brought those boas from home."

What you should know about Buck is that when he is not putting his life on the line on a football field, he is doing the same thing at community events. "We should all be so lucky to come and do this," he beamed later. "It's just as important to me as what I do on the football field. It's a chance to give back."

If you must know, the winning umbrella decorator was Terri Apostle from CTV Morning Live, who was ably assisted by Special Olympians Maggie Wilkinson, 9, and her sister Aura, 12.

"I'm very excited, but my ladies here were the brains behind the operation," Terri said, humbly. When I asked Maggie about that, she chirped: "We helped her a lot and we're really smart. That's why we won!"

The rest of you can be winners, too, when you donate a couple of bucks at Safeway stores this month. Just make sure to wear a helmet, because our umbrellas are still out there and they are extremely pointy.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 1, 2013 A2

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