On a sweltering Friday morning in Brandon, there were two kinds of fries in the Keystone Centre parking lot: the french fries being handed out and the volunteers handing them out.
Representatives from McCain Foods, Enns Brothers, STARS air ambulance and Ronald McDonald House Charities were on hand from 9 a.m. to noon to hand out substantial bags of fries from a freezer truck for what they called "Free Fry Day."
Cars drove up on either side of the semi-truck, stopped to deposit a donation into a bucket on the end of a pole and then pulled forward to get one or more bags of fries.
With a surplus of potatoes caused by a drop in demand due to COVID-19, McCain Foods partnered with Enns Brothers to clear out their backlog and raise some funds for STARS and Ronald McDonald House, which are splitting the proceeds 50-50.
"It started out that our Manitoba potato farmers, they’re having a tough time now with the COVID," field manager for McCain Foods in Manitoba Bart Witherspoon said. "It’s really affected our hospitality and our restaurant industry. So we had a surplus of potatoes, so we decided to try and do something good to give back to our communities and to charity. We’ve also had a hard time with our charity events due to COVID."
Witherspoon said his company already partners with STARS and Ronald McDonald House and decided to help them since they’ve had to cancel their own fundraising events.
Together with other giveaways of potatoes in Steinbach and Winnipeg, approximately 15,000 three-kilogram bags of potatoes were up for grabs as volunteers aimed to collect $200,000 for charity. In total, that would mean approximately 44,000 kilograms of potatoes were ready to be given out.
Enns Brothers will be matching up to $50,000 in donations, which had already been achieved when the Sun visited the event around 9:45 a.m.
Kevin Comte, vice-president of sales and marketing for Enns Brothers, said McCain reached out to his company six weeks ago asking if they wanted to partner up for charity.
"As soon as they mentioned those two organizations that we have aligned with and worked very closely with, it was an instantaneous decision for us to get on board and work with the ag community, work with our customer base to raise some funds for two great causes at a challenging time to raise money," Comte said.
"The money will be used for mission delivery," Ronald McDonald House Charities Manitoba CEO Wendy Galagan said. "So, front-line support for families. We provide meals, we provide accommodations, transportation, parking. All the essential needs that families need during a journey of childhood illness or injury, this money will help support that."
Lori Derksen, events manager for STARS Manitoba, said the donations will be very helpful for the non-profit since they have had to cancel a lot of their usual fundraising events due to COVID-19.
"This will go to help our operations and keep saving lives all over Westman," Derksen said.
While a repeat of the event hasn’t yet been decided on for 2021, Witherspoon said McCain Foods is considering holding Free Fry Day again. If that happens, all three of Comte, Derksen and Galagan said they’d be interested in participating again.
"Obviously we’ll gladly take it if it’s an annual event," Derksen said.
Once the giveaway in Brandon was finished, the volunteers and vehicles were scheduled to convoy their way to Winnipeg and meet up with the Steinbach team to hand out spuds in the capital from 3 to 6 p.m.
» Twitter: @ColinSlark