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Whistler raises $67,000 for Japan relief

Flea market, silent auction exceed organizers' expectations



Whistlerites opened their pockets in droves last weekend, shelling out over $67,000 to help the survivors of the recent Japanese earthquake and tsunami.

A coalition of Japanese restaurants including Sushi Village, Samurai Sushi and Kaze Sushi held a flea market and silent auction on Saturday and Sunday, respectively, gathering thousands more in donations than organizers expected.

"It was great, it exceeded our expectations by a long shot," said Ru Mehta, one of the organizers and the owner of Samurai Sushi.

News of a 9-magnitude earthquake in Japan on March 9 hit hard in Whistler because it has a considerable Japanese community. The megathrust earthquake struck east of the Tohoku region and triggered a tsunami that flooded the Sendai airport. Many Japanese nationals in Whistler spent days in emotional turmoil as they tried to reach their friends and relatives.

Communities throughout the Sea to Sky region pulled together immediately. In Squamish two weekends ago, a single organizer put together a fundraiser at the Brennan Park Recreation Centre that took in $12,800 in just three hours.

Last weekend was Whistler's turn. Japanese restaurants and others in town put on a flea market at Myrtle Philip Community School and according to Mehta $12,400 was raised as community members turned out to sell wares such as snowboards, t-shirts and books.

A silent auction was held at the Hilton Resort and Spa a day later. The hotel charged organizers about $300 for use of a room and volunteered their staff to help run the event. Admission was a $10 donation and items up for bid included snowmobile tours, hotel nights, international trips and gift certificates.

Throughout the night, the event was full to the point that patrons had to wait at the Cinnamon Bear Bar and Grille before they could even attend. Chris Quinlan, a councillor with the Resort Municipality of Whistler, said on Monday that the room turned around three times with patrons waiting to bid on items for charity.

Incredibly the silent auction generated $21,000 in donations between the door and raffle tickets alone. That alone brought the event well above expectations.

"With the auction, I was sort of thinking, with the door and the auction, between $30,000 and $40,000, so $55,000 was great," said Mehta. "The Japanese community was really happy at how people rallied around the cause."

Money gathered by these events will go to the Red Cross, which is leading relief efforts in Japan.

The Japan earthquake has also triggered an enormous demand for water due to an irradiated municipal supply in Tokyo, water that has seen enough radiation that it is not believed safe for infants.

A distributor working in Japan has been contracted as an importer of Canadian water. The distributor plans to buy anywhere from 120 to 130 ocean-freight containers worth of water from the Whistler Water Company.

Spokesman Chris Dagenais said that 100 containers is about 1.5 million bottles of water. That means the company could end up shipping 1,950,000 bottles-worth of water to Japan.

"That's about a ten-fold increase I would say on where we would normally be at this time of year," he said. "Heading into summer, it's been a scramble to get raw materials, to get labour, to get shipping arranged for those orders, but so far so good. We're systematically chipping away at the orders and getting them into the ports in Tokyo."

In addition to the purchases, the Whistler Water Company will be donating three ocean-freight containers free of charge.

"We feel the responsibility to do that," Dagenais said. "We are also working with the Red Cross Society, where partial proceeds of sales of water here in BC will go to the Japan relief effort."

Meanwhile students from Karuizawa, Whistler's sister city in Japan, kept to their schedule and arrived here last week. Thanks to the city's location away form the epicenter of the quake it suffered little damage.

While here, the students had a busy itinerary, staying with Whistler families, skiing and riding Whistler Blackcomb and the Peak 2 Peak, as well as taking Ziptrek tours. The students also went cross-country skiing and snowshoeing at Whistler Olympic Park and visited sites such as the Whistler Museum and the Squamish-Lil'wat Cultural Centre.

With the Japanese students' trip over, Whistler students are all now preparing to go to Japan themselves. Melamed, impressed with the language skills of the visiting students, encouraged Whistler students to learn as much Japanese as possible.