By Jensen, Randy on May 23, 2020.
Lethbridge Herald -coaldale
Three companies with deep roots in southern Alberta are coming together to support both local potato farmers and HALO Air Ambulance with a “Free Fry Day” on May 29.
At a kickoff event held on Friday at Perry Produce Ltd. near Coaldale, representatives of Western Tractor, McCain Foods and J.E.B. Transport announced they will be giving away 7,000 bags of frozen french fries next week with the hope those coming out to receive the frozen treat will reciprocate and provide a financial donation to support HALO Air Ambulance, which has warned it may have to shut down or severely scale back service by June without a large injection of cash.
HALO had hoped this injection would come from the provincial government in the form of a long-term service contract with sustainable funding but, so far, the province hasn’t come to the table, confirmed HALO CAO Paul Carolan.
HALO has always operated a fee-for-service basis with the province with much of its operating budget coming through donations raised through community and corporate fundraising events. HALO has lobbied for over a decade through three successive governments for sustainable, yearly funding, but this current COVID situation has even more forcefully highlighted this need, said Carolan, with HALO unable to hold or take part in any public fundraising events due to public health restrictions imposed by the province.
“I think the unbelievable outpouring of community support (in recent weeks) is really going to push this government to make a decision once and for all,” Carolan hoped. “I think they underestimate the amount of support HALO has in southern Alberta, and the impact the potential of its closure is having.”
Carolan said he was grateful to Western Tractor, McCain Foods and J.E.B. Transport for stepping up to sponsor the HALO Challenge in co-ordination with their Free Fry Day.
“This program means a lot to the people that have made it possible since 2007,” he said.
“With the HALO Challenge kicking off, it is trending on most social media channels, and then having the corporations jump on board, we are very optimistic we’ll be able to find a way through this.”
Western Tractor Canada president Steven Dyck said supporting both HALO, which is so important to southern Alberta’s agriculture industry, and local potato farmers in one big event made for a perfect match for all involved.
“We wanted to look at a way we could support a (potato) industry that is seeing some pretty significant declines right now, primarily due to COVID,” he explained. “We felt there was a need to step up as a company that supports this region, and do something that not only supports the potato industry but also gives some education around why it is so important, and why we need our consumers out there consuming this product even when our restaurants are shuttered. A lot of families and a lot of jobs are on the line.”
The Free Fry Day tour will be held at all southern Alberta Western Tractor locations next Friday starting out at 9 a.m.-10 a.m. in Medicine Hat before heading to Burdett between 11 a.m.-12 p.m., and then Taber 1 p.m.-2 p.m. The tour will conclude in Lethbridge at Western Tractor’s Broxburn Boulevard location between 3 p.m.-4 p.m. The goal is to raise $100,000 for HALO by business and individual donors jumping in to sponsor free bags of frozen fries to those who come out. The event will observe proper physical distancing as two large bags of fries will be delivered to each vehicle that comes.
McCain Food Western Canada senior field manager Jeremy Carter said as important as the event was for HALO it might even be more important for raising awareness of the challenges facing local potato farmers and the broader potato processing industry in Canada.
“With the onset of COVID-19, and restaurants closing, that dropped the demand for french fries,” he explained. “So we are out here to support our grower base, and help them. We need a sustainable grower base to maintain business past COVID, and this is a great initiative to raise awareness on french fry consumption, and maybe to get a few more people out and eat a few more french fries in the next few weeks.”
This local Free Fry Day event corresponds with the #frenchfriesfeedfarmers national awareness campaign, Carter said.
Those wanting more information on how they can donate to help HALO, or learn more about how they can help local potato farmers, can visit http://www.westerntractorfreefryday.ca.
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