Faith DeBrum was crowned the 2020 Santa Maria Elks Rodeo queen at a coronation Friday night, capping an unusual competition in a year when the rodeo was first postponed four months, then canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
DeBrum represented VTC Enterprises in the campaign that relies on each contestant raising funds for her sponsoring organization. Whoever raises the most money is crowned queen.
Running for Elks Rodeo queen was another way of giving back, DeBrum said when she announced her candidacy as a 16-year-old sophomore at Orcutt Academy.
DeBrum said she was diagnosed with cancer six years ago but has been cancer-free for five years.
During that time, she and her family raised more than $200,000 to fight childhood cancer and support other families going through the same battle, and she said she chose to support VTC Enterprises because it provides services and education for adults with developmental disabilities.
Part of DeBrum’s fundraising strategy continued something of a VTC Enterprises tradition — giving away a Chevrolet Corvette.
DeBrum is scheduled to hand over the keys to the rare 2020 mid-engine Corvette to winner John Hochleutner at 9 a.m. Wednesday at Home Motors in Santa Maria.
Because of restrictions imposed by the state to address the pandemic, queen candidates were publicly announced through virtual platforms this year, and the restrictions made fundraising challenging, requiring the candidates to find creative ways to hold events, said Tina Tonascia, Elks Rodeo director of operations.
In fact, three of an initial six candidates had to pull out because their sponsoring organizations couldn’t navigate the COVID-19 restrictions, Tonascia said.
That left DeBrum, Anna Kuykendall, representing St. Joseph High School, and Sabrina Dana, representing Northern Santa Barbara County United Way.
Kuykendall began her candidacy as a 17-year-old junior at St. Joseph High School, which she chose to support because, to her, it’s more than a school but also a home and it is devoted to helping families facing financial barriers.
Dana, a seventh-generation Central Coast native, joined the queen contest as a 15-year-old sophomore at Orcutt Academy High School. She is passionate about reading and books, so she supported the United Way because it provides books to young children, helps struggling readers and provides reading and English-as-a-second-language classes for adults.
Despite the COVID-19 restrictions, the three candidates still managed to raise a combined total of $440,059.
“It’s amazing that in a COVID-19 year they could do that,” Tonascia said. “I’m really proud of them.”
Last year, under normal conditions, four queen candidates raised $795,526.
The amount raised by this year’s three candidates brought the total contribution to community organizations to more than $13.5 million since the program started in 1944.
The coronation ceremony also was affected by the COVID-19 restrictions.
“We couldn’t hold a ceremony this year because we weren’t allowed to have any gatherings,” Tonascia said. “So the coronation was very limited and very intimate.”
She said the candidates accepted the lack of ceremonial acclaim imposed by the limitations and were very humble.
“You talk about setting an example for all of us,” Tonascia said. “It wasn’t about fanfare for them. It was about raising money for their community.”
Tonascia said plans are already underway for the 77th annual Santa Maria Elks Rodeo scheduled for June 3 to 6, 2021.
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