Catholic Social Services drew hundreds of people to Giovanni Caboto Park in Edmonton for a relaxed kickoff to its annual fundraising drive.

WCR PHOTO | THANDIWE KONGUAVI

Catholic Social Services drew hundreds of people to Giovanni Caboto Park in Edmonton for a relaxed kickoff to its annual fundraising drive.

September 28, 2015
THANDIWE KONGUAVI
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Normally a black-tie event at a fancy downtown hotel, the Catholic Social Services Sign of Hope campaign kickoff took a break from its past mold this year.

After 25 years of its successful Evening at the Mac gala, the Catholic service charity hosted a new event this fall called Evening at the Park, an evening of free food and folk music in the heart of the inner city, open to the entire community.

The annual Evening at the Mac event at the Hotel MacDonald largely reached out to people in the corporate professional sector, said Bruce Klanke, CSS vice president of community engagement.

This year's event in the Boyle McCauley neighbourhood saw people of all different classes, backgrounds and needs come together over a hot roast chicken meal at Giovanni Caboto Park.

Guests chatted at tables and under heat lamps, enjoying live folk and jazz music performed by artists including Braden Gates, the 2015 Edmonton Folk Music Artist of the Year; rising saxophonist Don Berner; and Juno-nominated folk artist Maria Dunn.

More than 450 guests pre-registered for the event and many more registered for a ticket at the site.

"I love the energy here, it's lots of fun," said Father Stefano Penna, a longtime CSS supporter who said Grace to open the event. "I like it. It's very folksy and friendly. It's a different thing; the Hotel Mac was a lot more formal, this is a lot more relaxed.

"Jesus did a lot of his stuff out on hillsides so here we are out on a parkside."

Klanke said the change in approach for the event was inspired by Pope Francis' call to be an "island of mercy in a sea of indifference.

"We're starting to resonate with what Catholic Social Services is all about: serving all people of all faiths or no faith and all cultures, with a heart for the poor," said Klanke.

Attendee Gassimu Nallo, who works with people with developmental disabilities, came to the event with six men from his group home. His group enjoyed the meal as well as the opportunity to socialize with people of the faith and people of good will.

Peter Ouellette, president of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Western Regional Council, also attended.

"It's wonderful to be here in the park, surrounded by more of the natural environment that both of our organizations are normally working in," he said.

Stephen Carattini, CEO of CSS, said this year's Sign of Hope campaign supports all of CSS' ministries.

INCREASED ENGAGEMENT

The emphasis of the campaign this year is shifting from just fundraising to engaging more people, said Carattini, noting that it no longer has a set dollar goal to achieve.

"We want to increase the level of engagement so really this is how we'll measure it: by the number of people praying for us, volunteering with us, and the number we hope donate," he said.