A million-dollar fundraiser, and even a rainy day, were reasons to celebrate at the seventh annual Pedaling for Hope Cyclathon in Abbotsford, B.C.
“Because of, not in spite of, the rain, the general atmosphere was one of celebration,” said ride organizer Jon Nofziger.
With the help of two matching pledges, 125 participants raised $1.1 million for Mennonite Central Committee.
The cyclists collected pledges totaling $130,000. A group of MCC supporters added $100,000. And because the money will support a project funded through MCC’s account at Canadian Foodgrains Bank, the Canadian government matched the $230,000 four more times.
Nofziger said the rain also reminded cyclists why they were there: to raise money to help MCC feed 5,800 Syrian refugees living in Lebanon.
“A little rain is nothing compared to what the refugees need to endure,” he heard one person say.
“And that kind of brought it home,” he said. The routes, one 20 km and one 50 km, went near the U.S. border at Washington.
When they got near, he told them, “just think about refugees crossing borders.”
The ride was part of MCC British Columbia’s annual Festival for World Relief Sept. 18-19, which more than 20,000 people attended. An auction, food sales, craft sales and more raised another $470,000 for MCC.
A loaf of bread sold for $137,000 in multiple bids. Nofziger said a loaf of bread is sold as a nod to MCC’s work, often around food.
The theme of the festival was “uprooted and vulnerable people,” which, like the bike ride’s cause, helped draw extra donors.
“A lot of Mennonite folks have that history of being refugees, so bread is very symbolic,” he said.
Nofziger said that typically 40 to 60 people join the cyclathon “as an alternative to typical relief sale events; read into that: eating.”
MCC will use the funds for food vouchers for Syrian refugees in Lebanon, along with nutrition and health education.
They chose the food voucher project for the ride early in the year, Nofziger said. Then a few weeks before the ride, a photo of a drowned 2-year-old Syrian refugee in Turkey focused worldwide attention on the refugee crisis.
Nofziger said the buzz the photo created brought in more riders and donations.
A friend suggested gathering a group of businesses or reliable donors to do some sort of match. So he did.
He found some friends of MCC, individuals and businesses willing to match two times every dollar raised up to $50,000. That brought the riders’ total to $230,000.
A federal grant given to Canadian Foodgrains Bank multiplied the total to $1.1 million.
The voucher program is run by the MCC partner Popular Aid for Relief and Development, with support from MCC and funding from Canadian Foodgrains Bank.
He knows hearing of a civil war overseas and not knowing how to help can be paralyzing.
“The ride offered some ways we actually do some concrete action,” he said. “That’s what I think is key to a lot of new participation. People want to do something and not just write a check or hand in money.”