Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Something to cheer about at Investors Group Field

Volunteers work concessions to raise money for charity

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Ovations Canada general manager Gerry Ellis: 'It's a win-win scenario. We get the employees, and they get the funds.'

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Ovations Canada general manager Gerry Ellis: 'It's a win-win scenario. We get the employees, and they get the funds.'

You probably don't know it, but every time you sip a drink or buy food while watching the Winnipeg Blue Bombers or singing along at a concert such as the recent Paul McCartney show, you are helping several local charities.

And those charities would love to give a standing O to Ovations Canada.

The company, which was chosen last year to be the exclusive food and beverage provider for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at Investors Group Field, doesn't hire its own employees to work the concession booths at the stadium.

Instead, the company has asked charities to provide people to work in the booths or hawk drinks and food in the stands.

In return, the company pays each of the volunteers the province's minimum hourly wage for the hours they work, with the actual cash going to the charity they represent.

Gerry Ellis, general manager of Ovations Canada, the exclusive food and beverage provider for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at Investors Group Field, said the company does this at many of the venues it manages. The company manages food, beverage, merchandise and hospitality services at more than 120 venues in Canada and the United States and has hosted major events, including Stanley Cup finals, World Series games and Super Bowls.

"It's a win-win scenario," Ellis said.

"We get the employees, and they get the funds."

Ellis said the charities bring in people for each Bomber home game, as well as any concerts or events put on at the stadium.

He said the average person works about five hours for each event for $10.25 per hour with some charities saying the individual can keep tips while others put the gratuities toward their fundraising.

"We are looking at the community, and if we can assist people, it is great," Ellis said.

"It's great for the football club, it's great for us, and it's good for the charities."

Jerry Maslowsky, vice-president of marketing and brand development for the Bombers, said they're pleased to know that charities are benefiting from Ovations' program.

"Anything we and they can do to give back is just wonderful," Maslowsky said.

"The football club is involved in community projects, but with Ovations, this makes us even a better community. There's a lot of organizations looking for ways to fundraise in this community. This is a great way to help them."

Kelly Butler has organized a crew to help raise money for the local Multiple Sclerosis Society, Football Manitoba and his own Playing for a Purpose charity.

Butler played two seasons with the Blue Bombers before retiring in March 2012. Before that, Butler played for four years in the National Football League for the Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns.

But Butler is interested in raising money for MS because his mother was diagnosed with the illness when he was 10 and living in his home state of Michigan. She has since died, but not because of MS.

"It's totally unbelievable what Ovations has allowed us to do at the Bombers stadium," he said.

"They help a great cause."

Butler said he takes the money his team of volunteers raises and divides it equally between the local MS Society, Football Manitoba and Playing for a Purpose, which raises money for MS research by holding a fundraising high school football game at the stadium.

"Not only did my mother have MS, but Manitoba has the largest population of people with MS in Canada," he said.

Butler said his volunteers serve food and drink, but if they are under the drinking age, they are deployed in the stands to work as "hawkers" selling popcorn.

"There's no shortage of work to do there."

Butler said he's always looking for more volunteers if anyone wants to join him.

"Ovations is doing an amazing job -- I tell them I thank you from the bottom of my heart. They allow former athletes to be involved with the team and help local charities."

Bonnie Van Norman, of the Sweet Adelines, who sing in barbershop harmony to raise funds for itself and for charities, said she can have up to 18 of her fellow Adelines volunteers wanting to come out to help at Bomber games.

"It's a really awesome fundraiser," Van Norman said.

"We like to sing along while working -- we have a lot of fun."

Van Norman said the Sweet Adelines have been assigned their own concession booth, next to Section 112, and they serve everything from hotdogs to nachos to fresh popcorn.

"Fundraising is hard now," she said.

"This way works and is fun. We raise anywhere from $800 to $1,200 a night... you're on your feet for five hours but we have no trouble filling the spaces."

Van Norman said the fundraising has already helped pay the costs for several of their members to take the food-handlers' course and give some funding to a couple of charities.

"And we're having a blast."

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 31, 2013 B4

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