Popular Dreamlift Day grounded

Wendy’s Dreamlift Day comes to an end as a fundraiser for the Sunshine Foundation of Canada.

Orange County Cal. Sheriff Mike Toledo with Nate Morgan (left) and Daniel Leclair and Queen's Park Elementary School principal Rob Zoppi on DreamLift Day last January in Penticton. Park Inland Restaurants which operates the nine Interior franchises has apparently decided to no longer host the annual fundraiser which helps send kids with disabilities to Disneyland.

A popular charity event that allowed local children with physical disabilities and life-threatening illnesses to fly to Disneyland for a day of worry-free fun has been grounded.

Wendy’s Dreamlift Day fundraiser is over and it’s still unclear whether dollars raised in its name earlier this year will see any local kids get a chance to get aboard a plane and soar away to Disneyland, as planned.

The fundraiser has been a community staple for 20 years and saw Wendy’s restaurants in Penticton, Kelowna, West Kelowna, Kamloops, Salmon Arm and Vernon donate a day’s worth of profits and wages  to the Sunshine Foundation of Canada, which then sent Okanagan kids with a variety of challenges to Disneyland.

The last fundraiser brought in $108,000, and a flight out of Kelowna, destined for Disneyland, was expected to be on the books for January 2015, given that flights have historically left the valley en route to Disneyland every second year and the last one happened in 2013. The Orange County Sheriff’s department, which lends members to help local kids as they disembark the planes for a Disney adventure, has indicated that they’ve been told that their help is not needed this year.

Sunshine Foundation of Canada representatives have failed to answer calls about this matter, however, a foundation communications officer  indicated to Black Press, that something was in the works. However, Sunshine Foundation has not indicated how it will continue to serve Interior youth or if Dreamlift flights from the region will continue.

“We certainly hope that there will be more Sunshine Dreamlifts serving kids in the Okanagan,” said Tristan Joseph, Sunshine Foundation of Canada communications officer.

“At this point, we don’t have definitive information on when that might be. Sunshine will continue to fulfill individual dreams for kids in the Okanagan.”

As for the fundraiser, it will still happen, just for a different cause.

“Now it’s time to help out other groups in need,” said Wendy’s chain owner Ken Park.

“We are going to shift our charitable giving to align with the other 51 Wendy’s restaurants in B.C., the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption.”

Park said that as a father to two teenagers, the idea of children not having a home is particularly heart wrenching, and that’s why he’s shifting gears.

It’s still an unexpected shift.

When Park bought the restaurant chain from  John Tietzen, who founded Dreamlift Days in 1995 and is also the former co-owner of Township 7 Winery, he said Dreamlift Day wasn’t going anywhere.

“I spent the entire day watching, observing and learning. I thought: Wow, this is nothing like I’ve seen before … there is a lot of emotional attachment to this event,” Park told a Black Press reporter in 2013.

Park admits that he did say the tradition would carry on when he first took the company’s reins, but he doesn’t have any second thoughts about initiating the change, pointing out that the children that will be helped by the charity are also in the community.

“We remain focused and committed to giving to the community,” he said. “I hope our community still supports Wendy’s. We are still going to donate our wages, and have an event, we’re just giving to a different group.”

Over its 20-year-run the event raised over $1.4-million dollars, and enlisted the help of countless community members.