No, Charlie Brown, this isn’t the name of your next film; the Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity (known in PL as ‘Wielka Orkiestra Świątecznej Pomocy’) is one of Poland’s biggest non-profit charity organisations which has raised millions of zloty buying medical equipment for the dilapidated Polish health system since it began in 1993.
Founded by a man who can best be described as a force of nature, Jerzy Owsiak, GOCC is essentially a huge one day telethon aimed at raising awareness and lots of money for children’s health care. Initially organised to provide “health care for children by supplying medical equipment to public hospitals,” GOCC changes its beneficiary cause each year and has since raised money for child victims of motor accidents and children with serious vision problems. In its first year, GOCC raised 1.5 million USD but since these early days it has become the biggest event of its kind in Poland with over 138 million USD raised to date.
Once a year the Great Orchestra’s final event is organised by volunteers in virtually every town in Poland, with hundreds of bands playing for free the various festival sites. The event traditionally takes place on the second Sunday of the year. You’ll see volunteers everywhere you go and wherever you are expect the finale to be a huge fireworks display at 20:00 which is called ‘Light to Heaven’. A truly virtuous and remarkably successful project, this year’s aim is to raise money to buy equipment that will help save the lives of prematurely born children and insulin pumps for pregnant women with diabetes. Those who have enough heart to contribute will receive one as well: the iconic red sticker which you will see on everyone in town this day. And you can have a heart too, Scrooge. Go on. ‘It’s for the kids.’