Vickie Marie Ayers doesn’t take no for an answer easily when asking for donations to support the Variety Club’s annual telethon. But then again, it’s hard for anyone to say no to the effervescent, and extremely persistent, Coquitlam woman who has raised close to $450,000 for the charity.
It all began 40 years ago when she was 10. Ayers saw a promotion for the Variety Club’s annual telethon to raise funds for the children’s charity. Although she had learning disabilities herself, she thought of her six-year-old brother David, who had a clubfoot and was autistic. She was in Brownies and asked the pack, “Why don’t we go and collect money for that.”
So they went door-to-door, collecting $80 and took it down to the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver where the telethon was being held back then. She was hooked. She hasn’t stopped raising money since.
“I liked being on TV,” admits Ayers, who got great pleasure and inspiration while on stage that day out of seeing all the smiling faces in the front row.
The next year Vickie went door-to-door herself, and four decades later she’s still knocking on doors, figuratively if not literally. It’s been her life, says her mother Lucille. “Vickie’s always had a generous heart. No matter what, she has a generous heart. She has this passion for it. She’s really affected a lot of people.”
Ayers has graduated from going door-to-door to raising money by several means. She’s always thinking up new ways to get donations. Now she has a long list of donors she contacts every year. And every year they come through.
Ayers has forged on with her campaigns despite suffering a stroke in 2015. She puts on two barbecues every spring at the Pinetree Village Save-On-Foods. She also sets up a booth at the store in January and February every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. prior to the telethon. Her parents and her sister both hold annual bocce tournaments in which Ayers gets everything donated. The family home on Draycott Street morphs into a Halloween haunted house every October to raise money for Variety, and yes, Vickie gets a lot of props and food donated for that, too. A class at Our Lady of Assumption elementary school holds a bake sale every year. “They love my cupcakes!” exclaims Ayers. She has year-long bottle and coin drives, and sells Variety Club T-shirts, too.
Her donations — last year she gave Variety close to $34,000 and this year her goal is $36,000 — have contributed to purchasing, among many things, several vans. One that went to Gordon Neighbourhood House in Vancouver lists ‘Vickie Marie Ayers’ as the lone donor on the driver’s door. Occasionally, she’ll see it an exclaim excitedly, “That’s my name, that’s my name!”
There’s no hesitation or reluctance on Ayers’ part to unabashedly ask for donations. Prior to one telethon she was waiting to go on with the colourful huge heart her mother makes out of the different denominations of donated money and there were a few firefighters in the room with her. They asked her how long it took her to raise the money and how did she find so many people to donate. She replied cheekily, “Well if you want to know, you’re going to have to pay me!” So they did, donating $50 toward the next year’s campaign.
One time she phoned a real estate agent who told her he would donate his usual $200. But when Vickie mischievously pointed out he had “a really good year” with lots of sales he said, “OK, Vickie” and happily gave her a $300 donation.
“She doesn’t know when to stop,” says Lucille. “That’s true,” Vickie nods enthusiastically with a smile.
A wholesaler Ayers lined up has been donating to the Halloween display for 16 years and told Lucille he couldn’t resist her daughter’s request. “There’s just something about her,” he said to Lucille. “There’s this big smiling face you can see over the telephone.”
Ayers will present her big heart filled with money at the 53rd annual telethon being held at the Hard Rock Casino on United Boulevard and broadcast on Global TV on Sunday, Feb. 10. She is slated to be on air sometime between 1:30 and 2:30 p.m.
As the interview ends, in typical Vickie Marie fashion she brazenly says, “We sell T-shirts. Do you want to buy a T-shirt?” which elicits a quick scolding from her miffed mom. “Vickie! Leave the man be.”
But it’s hard to say no.