Karen McKinnon introducing her heart-felt photo presentation tribute of a local YANA family at the Big Love Benefit. Photo submitted

Karen McKinnon introducing her heart-felt photo presentation tribute of a local YANA family at the Big Love Benefit. Photo submitted

YANA rolls out plans for 2021 virtual Big Love Gala

It’s the year of reinvention for the way we collectively do things, from family gatherings to classes and workshops, and especially any kind of large-gathering events, coming together looks a little different right now.

For a charity like YANA (You Are Not Alone), gathering together has been an integral piece of their community support building and fundraising, especially at events like their annual sell-out gala, The Big Love Benefit, YANA’s largest campaign event of the year which generates almost 40 per cent of the funds needed for their funding and accommodation programs.

Last year’s event was a smashing success, raising $166,000 through ticket sales, donations, draws and auctions. Two weeks later the world shut down and it became clear that the 2021 Big Love gala would not likely take shape in its usual form. Kelly Barnie, YANA’s executive director, spoke to this unfolding reality and the implications it could have on YANA’s ability to continue supporting Comox Valley families.

“Not holding our largest fundraising event of the year would likely put YANA in the position of having to say ‘no’ to families, or to be unable to support at the level we typically do. As always, our amazing volunteer committee stepped up in unanimous agreement that there was no way we could let that happen. They were committed as ever to finding a way to move forward with as many of the components of the annual gala fundraiser as possible, in a safe, flexible way that allows for maximum individual choice about how to join in the magic experience that is the Big Love Benefit.”

After many minds spent many hours back at the drawing board to re-invent this event in a COVID-friendly fashion, YANA has rolled out their plans for this years’ gala event. It’s set to be better than ever, opening up even greater possibilities for supporters from all over to join the cause and witness the love and generosity that is shown each year.

“In some ways, COVID is forcing us to solve the problems we’ve always had and never come up with a way to overcome,” says Barnie. “When you sell out an event in three seconds, there are countless YANA supporters that want to get on board, but can’t. It’s opened up the event far and wide for anyone to help YANA. April 1, 2021 marks YANA’s 35 year anniversary. There are three and a half decades of YANA families and their circle of supporters out there. You can’t fit that many people in a room together, but you can have them join a live broadcast together, experiencing it as one, in different locations across the Valley and beyond.”

The event itself, as well as the auctioning of generously donated items, will all be done virtually. Event attendees will be able to view the live virtual program and bid in the online auction in one of three ways: attending one of eight Champion Sponsor-hosted restaurants in their Safe Six group, attending one of 20 Supporter Sponsor-hosted Safe Six home parties, or by making a donation to receive a link so they can enjoy the virtual event and participate in the silent and live auctions from the comfort of their own home.

Kelly Rusk, YANA’s board committee president, points to the bright silver lining in all of this.

“The online event platform we’re using allows everyone to experience the energy, stories, presentations and celebrations from any location. It even has video and chat interaction features so we can virtually connect between venues! We know it’s not the same as being able to hug and visit and laugh with 300+ people, but virtually speaking, we’re hoping this is the next closest thing.”

Every ticket purchased, every auction bid, every big and small donation helps toward this important fundraiser, and especially so thanks to generous sponsors who cover the costs of the event so that 100% of the money raised goes directly to YANA’s travel funding and accommodation programs for families. Long term sponsor Brian McLean Chevrolet Buick GMC is helping every dollar donated make an even bigger impact this year. Every time someone makes a donation to receive the link to the live event broadcast and auction, the dealership will match the donation, dollar for dollar, up to $15,000.

The online auction opens on Feb. 16 and runs until the night of the gala on Feb. 26. Restaurant venue tickets, and “link by donation” tickets will be available at yanacomoxvalley.com starting Jan. 17 at 10 a.m. sharp. YANA supporters everywhere are encouraged to join in no matter how much you have to give, no matter where you’re giving from.

“More than ever, this year, we want everyone to be in a position to experience the love that surrounds this event. Whether you can donate a little or a lot, we want you to share in the magic that is Big Love. We’re all hoping that 2021 brings much more positive to our world, and we’re excited to start the year with something like this. It’s been a major undertaking for our staff and volunteers to toss the script and start from the beginning, and we hope that the community will come together to rally behind YANA families like never before.”

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