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First Step Charity raises $6,000 in its first gala on Northern Peninsula

Attendees of the First Step Gala included, from left: Michelle Shears-Rumbolt, vice-president, First Step Charity board of directors; Dr. Ravi Vaturri; Mark Wilkoff, president, First Step Charity board of directors; and Dr. Chris Van Niekerk.
Attendees of the First Step Gala included, from left: Michelle Shears-Rumbolt, vice-president, First Step Charity board of directors; Dr. Ravi Vaturri; Mark Wilkoff, president, First Step Charity board of directors; and Dr. Chris Van Niekerk. - Submitted

‘It’s about how much we can give and help’

GREAT NORTHERN PENINSULA, NL – First Step Charity’s work on the Northern Peninsula is underway, with a big boost from its first-ever gala.

The First Step Charity Gala was held at the Grenfell Interpretation Centre in St. Anthony on Nov. 25, with 64 people attending.

Over $6,000 was raised for the charity that evening. PAL Airlines also donated $2,000 in travel vouchers.

Mark and Linda Wilkoff created First Step Charity in 2017 to advance access to health care for residents on the northern tip of the Northern Peninsula.

The registered charity helps reimburse people for gasoline, meals, lodging and other expenses related to medical travel.

They also assist people by making them aware of other available resources.

“We want to be the go-to place for people who need assistance for medical travel,” Mark Wilkoff, president of the board of directors for First Step, told the Northern Pen.

Proceeds from the gala will now reduce the efforts the charity will have to dedicate to fundraising.

According to Wilkoff, the Grenfell Interpretation Centre was an appropriate setting for the event.

“The interpretation centre is a great community asset,” he said. “It made a great backdrop.”

The entire building was open for attendees to browse. Wilkoff connected what First Step Charity is doing to the work of the building’s namesake.

In his mind, the charity is helping continue Dr. Wilfred Grenfell’s mission by improving access to medical care.

He points out that while Dr. Grenfell brought medical care to the people here in the region, they’re helping people access medical care elsewhere.

And Wilkoff also found inspiration in the words of the legendary missionary.

“Dr. Grenfell once said, ‘It’s not about how much we can have and hold, it’s about how much we can give and help.’”

Concerned about costs

The Wilkoffs are from Virginia but are now permanent residents on the Northern Peninsula. They first visited the island of Newfoundland on a whim in 2002, and fell in love with the people and the environment.

After retiring, they bought a home in St. Lunaire-Griquet, where they live today.

Over the last 15 years, the Wilkoffs have become concerned about the cost of medical travel for residents on the northern tip of the Northern Peninsula.

“It’s just an incredible cost for people here, especially for those who have to go four to six times a year for cancer treatment for example,” said Wilkoff. “We became concerned about that and tried to figure out a way to help. And we started hearing stories about people in this area who forego medical treatment because they can’t afford to go.”

Out of that concern, the idea for First Step Charity was born.

It became a registered charity this year. Wilkoff estimates it has helped six to eight people since September.

Other than donations from the gala, he says approximately 10 businesses have committed to donating $1,000 a year over the next five years.

Wilkoff expects to have another gala in the fall of 2018 and will likely have other fundraisers before then.

To avail of First Step Charity’s services, Wilkoff says anyone in need of help may go to their website at www.firststepcharity.com and fill out an application or call the Wilkoffs at 709-623-2007 for assistance.

stephen.roberts@northernpen.ca

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