Braving the Canadian winter, Ottawa Kiwanians bundle up to battle bed-to-bed in a race for charity.
Story by Kasey Jackson | Photos by Jamie Johnson and Kasey Jackson
It was a motley crew. Scientists and firefighters, police and children. Kiwanians, CKI and Key Club members. A dog, some wannabe doctors, a male and a female princess, a snowman, a reindeer, a few furry mascots and, since this is Canada, there were of course many hockey fans.
And the competition was fierce.
Forget that the temperature hovered around -8 C — which is about 14 F. This group seemed oblivious to the bone-chilling cold. Everyone — even the dog — was here to do one thing: Claim victory in the 40th Annual Accora Village Bed Race for the Kiwanis Club of Ottawa.
The bed race, which is part of the Winterlude festival in the capital city of Ottawa, was revived by Ottawa Kiwanians in 2003 after the original sponsor backed out. Now the race attracts numerous teams and a respectable crowd, all cheering on as the action rolls by.
The beds are a simple 6-foot-by-3-foot metal frame with a headboard and footboard. No mattress. Rules say the bed must be on wheels for racing, have four runners and at least one rider on the bed (which uses a simple wooden slat so there’s somewhere to sit).
Many of the bed frames are built by students at a local college, and each team is urged to decorate their bed. Inspiration for the beds in the 2020 race come from all over. The movie “Frozen.” The game Operation. Hockey rivalries.
But even though some of the participants are dressed in Disney costumes, don’t be fooled. This is serious business. This fundraiser has brought in tens of thousands of dollars for the Kiwanis Club of Ottawa to pump back into the community. (And, let’s be honest, the prizes for fastest bed, best decorated bed and top fundraising team heat things up a bit as well.)
It’s exciting, but it’s what goes on behind the scenes that makes this not only a distinctive project, but a special one as well. The bed race is a partnership between Kiwanis and Key Club, bringing generations together to work side by side, teach one another and do good for the community.
Founding co-chair of the Kiwanis Bed Race Steve Georgopoulos says the seed was planted for this Kiwanis family partnership during a bus ride back from a Key Leader weekend.
He and another Kiwanis member brainstormed with Mannie Chabbra, then the Key Club of Canterbury High School co-president, about ways to get more Key Clubs interested in the bed race. And with that, plans were underway. Within five days, they had five more Key Clubs lined up.
The plan: Key Club members would pitch the project to friends, family and businesses to request funds for their registration, bed and additional donations. With Kiwanis members providing tips on how to make and complete the “sales pitch,” Key Club members went to it. They sent emails. Made in-person requests. And it worked.
“This was empowerment at its best,” Georgopoulos says. “An example of Kiwanis empowering members to pursue creative ways to serve youth and the community.”
A local company president who had recently become a corporate member of the Kiwanis Club of Ottawa was “blown away” by the pitch made by Key Club members. He quickly agreed not only to sponsor the Key Club of Canterbury High School’s bed race registration, he also sent an email to his contacts to ask for pledges for the Key Club.
“(The Key Club members) spoke passionately and knowledgably about the bed race and Key Club,” Georgopoulos says. “The morning of the bed race, just hours before leaving on a family vacation, (the company president) was setting up beds for the race. He followed in the footsteps of other active members who got involved soon after they joined.”
Mannie Chabbra says the bed race is a great opportunity because it offers Key Club members the chance to work closely with Kiwanis members and other Key Clubs.
“With Kiwanis lending Key Club a helping hand, so much was truly accomplished and members were inspired,” Chabbra says. “This really goes to show how much strength there is when Kiwanis and Key Clubs join together as a family. Together, there is nothing we cannot conquer when it comes to our dedication to service.”
Fun facts about the bed race:
- It’s been a part of the city of Ottawa’s Winterlude festival for 40 years.
- It used to be run on a frozen canal.
- The race is 50 meters (about 54 yards).
- The race raises about CA$40,000, and the money goes to Kiwanis Youth Programs and other Kiwanis projects.
- In 2020, there were eight Key Club teams: Canterbury, Sir Robert Borden, Gloucester, Colonel By, College St. Joseph, Glebe and St. Mother Teresa and the Key Club of Norwood Norfolk in New York.
- With the participation of the Key Club of Norwood Norfolk, the race has officially become an international event.
How to stage your own bed race:
- Visit ottawakiwanis.org to look at the photos and get a feel for the event.
- Set up a core team of two co-chairs and about two to four others. The section leads could include Team Solicitation, Sponsorship and Fundraising, Marketing and Logistics and Day of.
- Determine your location and get permits well in advance. Talk to city/town officials early and often. You may wish to consider having it as part of an existing event to ensure a base of spectators.
- Set the rules. The race can get competitive. Determine size and type of bed and wheels. Create and collect signed waivers.
- Decide if you will sell beds, rent beds or have an option for both. Contact a community college that has a welding department to ask if they can make some beds available for the race.
- Set a reasonable/appropriate registration rate for your area and target market.
- There are many components to this event. Identify committee members or Kiwanians who can “make things happen.” Think of people in your club who know people or can offer expertise in a specific area. Know someone in marketing? Ask them for help. Know someone who owns a box truck? You’ll need it. In our case, for example, we require storage and transportation for beds. It is very helpful that our two co-chairs are in industries that can facilitate these two important aspects.
This story originally appeared in the June/July 2020 issue of Kiwanis magazine.
This event was pre-pandemic.