If you happened to be walking downtown on the Tuesday before Hallowe’en, those loud, incoherent screams heard at the Riptide Pub weren’t of the blood curdling variety.
Rather, they were of a celebratory variety, mixed with reactions of both shock and jubilation as the Rotary Club of Campbell Rive put their talents to work and helped a noble cause.
Costumed in red t-shirts, the club hosted their annual Pumpkins for Polio charity auction, which brought the event back live after a two-year hiatus due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Club members who volunteered for the annual event wore shirts emblazoned with the slogan which made their message read loud and clear: End Polio Now.
“This event started in 1990,” said Rotary past president Gary McLelan, who is a co-chair of the event with Pieter Koeleman. “We initially bid on pumpkins in the club, but after a couple of years we decided to put it out to the community to help us bid on them as well.”
Polio, which is a virus that can cause joint stiffness, fever and, in many cases, permanent paralysis, is thought of as an eradicated virus in the western world. Polio numbers declined dramatically in industrialized countries with the widespread introduction of the Polio vaccine in the mid-1950s.
However, in developing countries, it is still active. According to the worldwide Global Polio Eradication Imitative (GPEI), started by the World Health Organization, the United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Rotary International in 1988, polio is one of two diseases currently the subject of a global eradication program, with the other being Guinea worm disease. Cases of polio worldwide now number in the mere hundreds, with as many as 370 cases internationally according to the CPEI in 2019.
The auction was a group effort, with the 32 pumpkins being auctioned donated by Coastal Black Farms as a canvass, and the Campbell River Arts council and the Crowsnest art consortium handling most of the artwork. Additional artwork for auction was handled by Greg Henderson and local city councillor Ron Kerr, who donated original artwork with a pumpkin theme.
“It’s a carriage pumpkin type clock,” McLelan said about Kerr’s donation. “It is quite nice.”
In addition to the money raised, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation double matched the money raised. For example, if $10,000 was raised, it would be tripled to $30,000.
McLelan said with COVID, the auctioned was held online, with a ZOOM-led conference call where individuals could donate. However, he is quite pleased that a turn to normalcy has finally come.
“It’s good,” McLelan said. “We are ready to sit down and have the pumpkins all ready. We can hopefully get a good contribution and look at eradicating polio throughout the world.”