Holiday charity work in Canada is a challenge for fundraisers and donors during the pandemic

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When Victoria’s Santa Claus Parade had to be canceled due to COVID-19, the Greater Victoria Festival Society came up with a Plan B for floats and decorations: use them to draw attention to drop-off locations. food and toy banks.
But new health orders last month, which banned drop-off events, even put that effort at risk.

“Being able to support food in the toy banks was something that was really important to us, so we worked really hard to collaborate with other organizers,” said Kelly Kurta, Executive Director of the Greater Victoria Festival Society.

“And then canceling or pausing Santa Claus was very, very frustrating.”

The relief came last week, when British Columbia health officials granted an exception for vacation driving events, including fundraising campaigns.

Greater Victoria Festival Society Executive Director Kelly Kurta hopes COVID-friendly fundraising campaigns across the region will provide much-needed funds to local charities. (Michael McArthur / CBC)

“I cried when Dr. [Bonnie] Henry said we could, you know, have the deposit donations for the food and toy banks, “Kurta said, referring to the BC provincial health worker.” I actually think we going to be able to do more than what we do. in a normal year. ”

With COVID-19 bringing a year of layoffs, isolation and other hardships for many, charities consider their work more essential than ever. And while some are seeing an increase in the number of volunteers and donations, the pandemic restrictions have made the work of others an additional challenge.

‘The need is very high’

Vancouver’s Jewish Family Services (JFS) has been distributing Hanukkah baskets to families in need for several years, but they are concerned about how this season would turn out.

Would there be enough sponsors for the families? And how to deliver the gifts he has received? Getting recipients to pick up their baskets would be a challenge with COVID-19 restrictions.

But this year’s organizer Leeya Schachter says she was pleasantly surprised.

Volunteer drivers mobilized to deliver Hanukkah baskets to Jewish family services in Vancouver. The organization has been distributing the baskets to families in need for several years. (Mike Zimmer / CBC)

“It’s amazing how much people really want to help in a crisis,” she said.

“I think I had excess drivers for Vancouver in particular. And I had to say, “You’re on a waiting list in case someone cancels. “”

There was also no problem finding sponsors to fill the backpacks and baskets with food and toys, Schachter said.

Overall, JFS says they have seen people recognize the importance of helping at a time when the need is greater than ever.

For example, the pop-up food bank she ran twice a month served around 450 people before the pandemic. After COVID-19 hit, the organization had to deal with it every week to meet the needs of 900 people seeking help.

A campaign in September to stock shelves raised enough money and food to keep the program going for six months – double what last year’s campaign brought in.

“It’s really cool to see how the Jewish community really comes together,” Schachter said. “People understand that the need is very high. ”

Seventy families in Metro Vancouver receive baskets of toys, gifts and food to celebrate Hanukkah. (Mike Zimmer / CBC)

Growing online donations, but not for everyone

It is not the only organization to enjoy growing support. Canada Helps, a platform that accepts online donations for registered charities in Canada, says there has been a 70% increase in online donations so far this year.

According to Imagine Canada, an advocacy group that works to support charities in this country, this increase is not visible everywhere.

“Organizations – which to the public, government and business are deemed to serve the most vulnerable – see both an increase in demand for services but also an increase in supply as Canadians step up their action.” , said President and CEO Bruce MacDonald. .

His group released a report in the spring that showed 35% of charities were reporting increased demand, and the number is even higher now, he said.

But groups in arts and culture, sports and recreation are seeing support dry up as demand grows, MacDonald said. And charities that rely on holiday events have been particularly hard hit.

“If they were relying on impulse contributions, just tossing a dollar or two in a coin box or as a commuter, taking a toy or food with you from home, then dropping it off at work or in a box. drop off along the way… “If people are working from home, if they don’t go to malls because they order online, it probably means a drop in these types of campaigns,” he said.

Christmas offices in trouble

The lack of events is hitting the local Christmas offices hard.

“There is no tree lighting ceremony. [Santa Claus] parade. These are often fundraising opportunities for us, ”said Lisa Werring, Executive Director of the Surrey Christmas office.

“There are no organized third-party events. The toy campaigns were very difficult. This therefore had a considerable impact on our financial results. ”

Lisa Werring, executive director of the Surrey Christmas Bureau, says the pandemic has forced the organization to change almost every aspect of how it operates. (Mike Zimmer / CBC)

She said the office saw an overall drop in fundraising of around 20% and that there was a lack of toys. He had to start the program in early November this year, in order to space out appointments with families due to COVID-19 precautions.

The office hopes to help nearly 2,000 families, with more than 4,000 children. To do this, Werring said he had to radically change his operations, but was determined to do whatever it takes.

“The kids had really had enough this year,” she says. “It is simply impossible that Christmas will be taken from them. We need to make sure Santa Claus shows up in Surrey. ”

The office relies heavily on volunteers, most of whom are seniors, who are unable to help in person due to concerns about COVID-19. So he developed an online registration system, and these volunteers switched to helping with processing applications at home.

Werring said the organization was fortunate at that time to have “fantastic” high school “elves” from the Guildford Park High School Co-op Program in Surrey to help the office.

“It’s really very rewarding to see their faces and just feel the love,” said Triza Iklakh, a school volunteer.

“Especially with COVID and everything that’s going on, it’s not only really rewarding to be here, but it feels good. And I just think for the families that come here and they can see it’s open to them. ”

Forty toys

In previous years, families were matched with a volunteer, who then helped them choose toys for their families. But due to medical orders, this hasn’t been possible this year, so students are now collecting toy packages for each family based on wish lists provided by families.

“I was a little concerned about the prepackage. You know, part of the beauty of the Christmas office is giving parents the dignity of a shopping experience and choosing their own toys, ”Werring said.

“But everyone understood the reason perfectly. And they are happy that we take care of them, that they are also safe and that they are not exposed or put themselves in danger during this process. ”

Collected toys must be quarantined for 72 hours before they can be distributed, and the collection of new and used coats also had to be canceled. But along with the toys, the office is still able to provide grocery gift cards to help the hundreds of families, many of whom have never been to the office before.

“Lots of families who had good jobs and found themselves on CERB or other forms of assistance for much of the year. These people have never had to ask for help before, ”Werring said.

“We were very delicate working with them and reassuring them, you know, it can happen to anyone. ”

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