The Season Of Giving Part 5
The Air Canada Foundation: Heart & Soul Of The Airline

by Martha Chapman

Air Canada Foundation Volunteers

Shooting for the Stars with Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price and some pretty pumped kids

More volunteers at the Rally for Kids with Cancer in Toronto

Anyone in the business is used to being approached to contribute a trip for a worthy cause. But, when you work for the Air Canada Foundation, it’s thousands of requests every year. Which is one of the reasons the company, after decades of supporting community efforts, formalized the establishment of a Foundation in 2012 with charity status, propelled by the earthquake in Haiti and so many wanting to help.

Today, its staff of 3 (+1 volunteer) juggle those many requests and manage to keep their eye on several main initiatives. As Foundation Manager Micheline Villeneuve told me from their YUL headquarters, “We work with some 350 charities and attend some 500 events each year. One way our staff get involved is by volunteering to attend those events and spread the word about the work of the Foundation.”

Not surprisingly, the works are quite diverse. They include the Wings of Courage program, whereby pilots wear their uniforms during their days off and volunteer their time visiting kids in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa (and soon Montreal) hospitals. Dreams Take Flight, which started in 1989, has seen the airline host flights for over 10,000 kids to visit Disney theme parks. And the spare foreign change collected in the Every Bit Counts inflight initiative brings in some $200,000 each year (though Villeneuve thinks there’s potential for much more).

The Foundation also works with outside charities. These include the new Wanderluxe gala event, which auctions off ACV packages and flights to raise funds for the Herbie Fund at Toronto’s Sick Kids Hospital, bringing needy kids in from outside Canada for surgery. Free the Children and the Starlight Children’s Foundation are also partner charities.

Clearly there’s a theme of children running through many of the Foundation’s efforts.

One way the public can get involved is by donating their Aeroplan points, thousands of which are used to bring children in remote communities across Canada to hospitals in major cities for medical treatment. In all it’s estimated that the Foundation orchestrates the donation of some $4.5 million in cash, flights and services each year.

As Villeneuve spoke to me yesterday, a colleague was scrambling to arrange flights to reunite a Syrian refugee family in time for Christmas. “We often say we are the heart and soul of the company,” she says. “Is it the best job at Air Canada? You bet it is!”

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