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BILL TIERNEY: You don't have to look far to see giving can be fun

by Bill Tierney

Charitable giving is a key component in the budgets of local health, educational, artistic and research institutions. As government budgets get tighter, philanthropy gets more and more important. Our non-profit organizations need our financial support.

Philanthropy comes in many shapes and sizes. Some people can give large gifts, some people give small. The Mingo-McEwen Fund, which kicks off its 15th fundraising campaign on May 8 with its annual Ugly Shirt Comedy Night, takes it anyway you want to give it, from children collecting pop bottles to individual citizens cutting thousands of dollars in a single cheque. Services, T-shirts, anything that could be a prize in a raffle or an auction, the Mingo-McEwen Fund will take it all.

And you will probably get swept up in the giving buzz created by Bob McEwen and his volunteers. It is infectious, filling (because there is always food supplied by sponsor Dagwoods) and fun.

Even a sceptic like me gets caught up in the stampede to give.

You’ll find the name Mingo-McEwen Fund (MMF) up on the wall in the dining room at the Palliative Care Centre in Pointe Claire. Bob McEwen, then a town councillor in Ste. Anne de Bellevue, teamed up with the town of Ste. Anne to give $75,000 during the centre’s construction fundraising campaign.

You’ll find MMF on the wall in the Palliative Care room at the Montreal Children’s Hospital, where the Mingo-McEwen Fund first started raising money for furniture and equipment.

You’ll find the MMF logo on the backs of specialized wheelchairs at the Veterans’ Hospital. And now, in 2010, you’ll find the MMF logo associated with the mobile dental unit that brings dental services right to the veterans’ bedsides.

MMF isn’t just a charity that gives away as much as $100,000 a year: it is a family and friends commitment to giving that has been transformed into a mini-social movement.

“We get donations from anywhere and everywhere,” explains McEwen, founder and chief organizer of this Ste. Anne-based charity. “I’m not shy. I’ll take anything and it’ll end up in one of our raffles. I even auctioned my mother’s cooking for an evening. Our MMF kids collect bottles and do odd jobs to raise money. And one donor recently teamed up with MMF by contributing a very large sum of money to veteran dental care.”

MMF started with a catastrophic accident, an illegal hockey check on Bob’s son, Tim, in a hockey match. Tim was driven into the boards and broke his neck. He was rushed to the Children’s Hospital. There, he shared a room with Brent Mingo, himself a childhood victim of meningitis.

“Brent was struggling with major health issues,” Bob told me at the bar in Cunningham’s in Ste. Anne, a restaurant he founded with a group of friends. “It put Tim’s fracture into a new perspective for us. Brent and his parents really affected us. Brent had this hockey dream, to be associated with a serious team. So we made him honorary captain of the John Abbott team I was coaching. The team organized a fundraising evening for the Children’s Hospital and we raised $5,324, which was then used to purchase things for the neuroscience ward. The Mingo-McEwen Fund was born and we’ve been raising funds and giving them away ever since.”

With a core group of about 120 volunteers for the three main activities, McEwen calculates that about 1,600 people are involved in one way or another with the charity. Last year, 350 people came to the Ugly Shirt Comedy Night and they raised $12,000.

I have been to several MMF events and I can confirm charity doesn’t get much more effective than that.

The 2010 MMF Ugly Shirt Comedy night is Saturday, May 8, at the Paul-Émile Lépine Community Centre, 150 Perrot Blvd., Île Perrot. The evening starts at 6:30 p.m. with light snacks and cocktails.

Bill Tierney is the former mayor of Ste. Anne de Bellevue.