When Dorothy Soo-Wiens and Erwin Wiens, organizers of Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Christmas tractor parade, teamed up with Joe Pillitteri to cap off his annual fundraiser for cancer research, little did they know the depth of the generosity they would witness.
In total, they managed to collect more than $100,000 from attendees and supporters of the tractor parade on Dec. 14 — surpassing their goal of $15,000.
Pillitteri, co-owner of Lakeview Vineyard Equipment, heads up Team Pillsy, which participates annually in NOTL’s Terry Fox Run, raising tens of thousands of dollars every year for cancer research via the Terry Fox Foundation. 2023’s campaign started in late August.
He was overwhelmed by the support from the community during that December evening in Virgil, as the people who were gathered on the street to watch the parade chipped in what they had for the cause.
“Just walking along the side of the road, I think we collected $5,000,” Pillitteri said. “People were chasing (the collectors) wanting to donate, which was incredible.”
Before the parade in December, Soo-Wiens and Wiens approached Pillitteri with the idea of adding a fundraising component to their tractor parade.
A friendly competition was cooked up, pitting the Wienses against Team Pillsy to see who could raise the most money for cancer research in conjunction with the event.
The goal was modest — the Wienses and Pillitteri hoped to raise a total of $15,000 during the parade – but as it turns out, donors had other ideas.
With contributions still coming in, the tractor parade’s campaign has raised $54,000 so far. And thanks to one anonymous backer who pledged to match donations dollar for dollar, the total stands at $108,000.
This brings the total amount Team Pillsy raised in 2023 to almost $250,000 — the money was raised in the fall during the town’s annual run and a comedy night hosted in early October by Pillitteri.
“We had a lot of people, friends who stepped up to help,” Wiens said of the tractor parade team’s campaign. “The $15,000, we didn’t even know if we’d get that.”
One of those friends who came through in a big way was Dorothea Enns, a Wiens by birth, who stepped up to donate $10,000 in honour of her cousin Herman Gau, who is living in a Niagara long-term care facility.
“He was in the farming community,” Enns said. “He had a brother who sadly passed away,” she added, referring to Reinhard Gau, who had cancer himself.
“We thought it would be nice to honour them,” she said.
When it came to which team would get the money, Enns admitted to feeling a little conflicted.
“I was a Wiens before I was married,” she said. “Dorothy (Soo-Wiens) and I used to joke about being the two Dorothys. But Joe is also our customer.”
In the end, her money went to the Pillitteri side, but regardless of which campaign came out on top, the money was all going toward a worthy cause, Enns said.
“It was a collaborative, friendly competition.”
The funds collected will push Team Pillsy’s fundraising total for 2023 to $242,000, which Pillitteri said would make Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Terry Fox Run team one of the top three in the country.
“It will be incredible,” Pillitteri said. “I think only Toronto and Montreal are in front of us.”
He also had high praise for the Wienses, citing the couple’s dedication to helping the community. Soo-Wiens in particular, he said, is “an angel” in his eyes.
“She does so much for the community and expects nothing in return.”
The Grape Growers of Ontario, meanwhile, stepped up with a donation of $2,000 while several donors came through with donations of $500 or $1,000.
The parade itself was a huge success, Soo-Wiens said. While she couldn’t give an exact number for how many people turned out to watch the festivities, she said it surpassed last year, when about 4,000 people lined the streets in Virgil for the event.
And it wasn’t just people from NOTL who came out for the event.
“We talked to people who came from Fort Erie, Grimsby, Fonthill, Niagara Falls and St. Catharines,” Soo-Wiens said.
In total, 65 tractors and pieces of farm equipment were a part of the parade. And that is what brought out the crowds, she said. said.
“Who doesn’t like tractors all decked out in lights?” she asked rhetorically. “It’s always a fun time, especially for families.”
While the popularity of the event has thrilled Soo-Wiens, she said that some changes may need to happen in the future as the parade grows: With the increased attendance came increased traffic, for example.
“We’ll have to review how we do traffic,” she said.