‘Pink Elephant’ may face extinction

Societe du Centre Communautaire Rivière vice-president Tracy Gagne, left, and Al Paterson standing in front of the Centre Chevaliers at Falher. The hall faces closure if community members don’t step up and help to volunteer by sitting on their board or helping to find fundraising opportunities. An annual general meeting was held Jan. 23 to see how much community interest remains.

Emily Plihal
Local Journalism
Initiative Reporter

Centre Chevaliers, also known as the Pink Elephant, in Falher, may be facing closure unless committee members can find a solution to its bleak and meagre financial situation.
The centre is currently owned and operate by Societe du Centre Communautaire Rivière, a team of volunteers who have been working tirelessly to break free of the fiscal restraints that the COVID pandemic put on the facility.
“Unfortunately, between the pandemic restrictions, the age of the hall and the rising costs of operations and materials, the hall has felt a severe financial impact, and we are at risk of closing the doors permanently,” says society vice-president Tracy Gagne.
“The hall was able to stay operational during the pandemic restrictions, but at a cost. A matching grant was received prior to the shutdowns, and the majority of the grant had to be used towards utilities during the time when no bingo or rentals could happen, hence the unfinished exterior of the building. In addition to using up the grant money, any surplus the hall had was also used up.”
The current committee is comprised of president Darren Cote, vice-president Gagne, treasurer Denise Maisonneuve and director Janie Simard. In order to garner more interest in the facility and to try to attract more committee members, the group held an open annual general meeting Jan. 23 at the centre.
Gagne says there are many repairs required in the building, including basic maintenance items and some capital projects that need to be completed to keep the centre operational.
“We are looking for community members from all over our region to join our board and help fundraise to keep the doors open,” she says.
“We need help with operational costs, we need volunteers to help fundraise, to help with ideas to generate more income,” she adds.
She says they are currently receiving some help from local municipalities. The Town of Falher helped facilitate a loan to help offset the costs of a boiler system.
“Without their help we wouldn’t have been able to keep the doors open last year as our boiler was in desperate need of repairs to maintain heat in the building,” she explains.
The committee was scheduled to attend Falher town council’s meeting Jan. 18 to discuss their situation. They also met with the M.D. of Smoky River earlier in the month to ask for help with the cost of insurance for the year.
Their current monthly expenses total just over $8,000, with very little revenue currently being generated via hall rentals and bingos. These expenses include utilities, yard maintenance, basic operational expenses of food and refreshments for sale, waste disposal, janitor, bingo staff and manager wages, and the loan repayment to the Town of Falher.
“Any volunteer help or cash donations to subsidize the expenses would help tremendously,” she says.
“The problem is the ongoing costs, and this is why we are asking the Town and the M.D. for ongoing operational help. Ideally, we would like one of them to take on the facility and run it through their organization.”
The society has planned a 50/50 raffle to help start raise funds to pay monthly charges and to keep the facility open.
“The raffle will start sometime the week of the 17 of January and go until we sell the tickets out,” she says.
“Tickets are $10, we have partnered with Rafflebox so everything will be online. With minimal members on our board, it is difficult to have printed tickets to sell.”
Gagne says the partnership allows society members to use social media and email to a bigger audience. This will also help them collect online payments and provides app tracking to fundraise with ease.
They will also be holding a bottle drive but have not set the official details of the fundraiser. If anyone would like to donate their bottles, Gagne says they can be dropped off at the Centre Chevaliers at any time.
The hall currently has three long-term renters: Smoky River Dance, Nord West FM, and Family and Community Support Service’s Food Bank. The rent from these organizations brings in a guaranteed income of $1,600 per month.
She explains they lost a kitchen rental last year when their renters chose to move to a different facility. She says their weaknesses continue to be a main cause of concern including dependence on rentals (rentals have been virtually non-existent for the last two years and are now lower than what they once were), too few board members (there are only five, a hall manager and bingo director), the AGM has minimum attendance every year, the region has an aging demographic and thus a diminishing population.
“We continue to try and think outside the box for fundraisers, we aren’t a lot of members and at this point, we are all exhausted from the past couple of years of keeping the doors open through a pandemic,” she explains.
“We all volunteer our time to keep this pillar in the community open, we are in desperate need of more people, new ideas, new blood to help.”
Gagne says hall manager Colby Robbins has been working hard to keep the hall afloat with donations from other organizations, rentals of the hall itself. She says they have raised the rent of the long-term renters, included the janitorial costs of events in their rent, and have had family members volunteer time to make maintenance repairs on the building, but they are still fiscally falling short every month.
Bingo takes place every Wednesday night from 7-9:30 p.m.
“People from all over the area travel in good and bad weather to attend bingo,” she says.
“We have regulars from Valleyview, High Prairie, Sucker Creek, McLennan, Kinuso, Donnelly, Peace River, Grimshaw, Girouxville and even Red Earth. Bingo players range in age from 18-80.”
Gagne says attending bingo is more than just playing a game and winning money. It’s about people gathering and connecting with each other.
“There’s never a frown on anyone’s face on bingo night, the hall is always filled with laughter and smiles,” she says.
“The regulars are welcoming, and always willing to guide and help the newcomers,” she adds.
With monthly expenses growing and monthly generated income not increasing at the same rate, the operational costs are no longer offsetting the costs.
“The hall has been struggling for years and any surplus of funds we had or fundraised was used for operational costs in the last three years, leaving us no money to operate or have for maintenance or repairs,” she says.
“Bingo is held weekly, and due to declining numbers in players, has not been able to sustain itself, resulting in the need to utilize money from other accounts to pay for supplies and wages. The last thing we want to do is take away bingo.”
Gagne says community members can help by attending bingos every week or volunteering to be on the board.
She adds any time people can give to the centre would be greatly appreciated.
If you would like to sit on the board or would like to help facilitate a fundraiser, please contact Colby at (780) 837-4806.

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