It is often synonymous with hope and joy. However, for many community organizations who work in the world of poverty reduction and support our communities’ most vulnerable, watching the ‘giving’ trends in our community over the last few months has stirred mixed emotions that are not necessarily hopeful. We at the United Way/Centraide of SDG have received many questions (and very negative comments) regarding our decision to restrict donations be brought directly to the Stepping Stones Project at the old Parisien Manor site. So, we thought it was time to start the conversation on why that is.
It is undeniable that watching a growing community empathy towards individuals experiencing homelessness has warmed our hearts. It has been incredible to witness so many of you, personally and through the companies you work for, rally around some of our most vulnerable and ensure they are cared for. However, this one-on-one type of giving for individuals experiencing poverty and homelessness can have an unwilling negative effect on efforts to make a substantial, significant, and systemic impact on the effects and root causes of poverty.
By no means are we saying it is not important to care for others, to take care of individuals, to watch out for our neighbours, but we are hoping the community can take a step back and realize the power they hold to help so many more if they direct their time, energy, and donations to larger organized efforts that want to achieve the same goals as themselves.
If these donations, big or small, were diverted to organizations that have the proven track record, the experience, and the know-how, to help so many more, with so much less, our impact could grow beyond the limits of the encampments or singular individuals.
For example, spending $5 at a local coffee shop to drop off a hot beverage and a snack to an individual living in an encampment has a small impact, but you may not realize the Agape Centre and Centre 105 can easily turn that $5 into multiple hot meals that include coffee, a snack, and so much more.
Organizations offering meal programs in our city also offer supplemental services including access to social workers, free haircuts, laundry facilities, low-interest loan programs, and navigation towards mental health, legal, and other specialized supports. If we are to assist individuals to navigate their way out of the complex web of poverty, we do not achieve this by simply providing them with one simple meal, we do this by building a community of support systems around these individuals. These communities exist within these larger organizations.
When your $5 could help that one individual AND help the 1 in 7 families in our region that currently identify as food insecure, why would you not want to do more with your donation? Why would you not want to help more people who deserve to also be cared for?
There is an old proverb of “If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.” Our many community organizations do that. They teach people how to survive in the complex world of increasing financial pressure. They ‘teach’ people to move through the difficult steps and application processes to find housing, to get the government supports they need to find or change employment, or to simply feed their families on limited budgets.
Currently, in Cornwall alone, ready-made food options for breakfast are available five days a week at the Agape Centre and three times a week at Centre 105. In addition, ready-made lunch options are available six days a week at the Agape Centre. Some organizations like the Agape Centre are even innovating to provide a breakfast program geared to youth who also can leave from breakfast with their ‘packed lunch’ for school, and they also provide a take-home meal for Sunday for those that visited their food program on Saturday. Our food banks and food cupboards can help fill the void between these services and provide adapted food hampers that meet the client’s needs in terms of what devices they have to cook on and their level of skill, interest, and knowledge around food preparation. Many local restaurants are even providing free meals throughout the month, and these organizations promote those services.
In addition to these food programs, organizations like House of Lazarus are helping individuals access furniture and furnishings they need to equip their homes. Organizations like ACFO’s Friperie du Sourire, in partnership with La Citadelle, are helping anyone access clothing, coats, and small household items for free. Habitat for Humanity Cornwall & The Counties is helping low income working families by building affordable homes locally. And with donations to their ReStore (which helps fund their building projects), they were able to provide furniture to the UWC SDG to help us furnish the old Parisien Manor location to feel comfortable for those residing there. This list could go on, and on, and on. There are so many non-profits and charitable organizations in our region who have been putting in the time, research, and innovation to develop and adapt their programs to meet the current needs and have bigger impacts on a very large and complex issue.
We know how powerful one story can be. How it can motivate us to want to help and find solutions on a micro level. However, we ask you not to overlook the bigger picture and the larger impact our community support organizations can have.
Learn about them, trust them, believe in them, and donate to them. The impact they have is SO MUCH MORE than you may even realize.
So please, keep up your drive to donate, to make change, to help someone in need, but remember, if you give to a person, you’ll help them alone, but if you give to an organisation, you will help them while being part of a much larger community impact that helps the thousands of people who need it right now.
Juliette Labossière, Executive Director, United Way/Centraide SDG (UWC SDG)
Leigh Taggart, Executive Director, Habitat for Humanity Cornwall & The Counties