Organisations of help feeling the strain

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Among the victims of this covid-19 pandemic are the many non-profit organisations that are dealing with a huge increase in demands for their services. Many of the 58,000 non-profits and charities in Ontario are facing the risk of permanent closure, according to the Ontario Non-profit Network (ONN). Cathy Taylor, Executive Director of ONN, reports that the non-profit sector will have lost $1.8 billion in the first three months following the declaration of the State of Emergency in Ontario.

The usual source of revenue for charities and non-profits has been very badly affected, and even federal and provincial support is not enough to cover the losses. ONN is recommending the Government of Ontario create a $680 million stabilization fund for nonprofits and charities so they can help rebuild the economy and communities. This is the amount left to cover costs after government funds are paid out. “This is not about emergency funding. As the Ontario government makes plans to reopen the province, the window of time is closing to help stabilize nonprofits and charities, and ensure they are still able to operate and serve their missions”. The usual sources of funds for charities, such as raffles, concerts, collection boxes, etc., are not as readily available to these organisations as they were before the pandemic. One of the largest of these is the Heart & Stroke Foundation.

“Heart & Stroke has had an immediate revenue loss of $25 million as a result of the cancellation, postponement and moving of events to a virtual format. This has required us to cancel discretionary projects, cut expenses and temporarily lay off about 45% of our staff,” said Avril Goffredo, Executive Vice President, Ontario & Nunavut, Heart & Stroke.

“A stabilization fund would allow us to continue to fund groundbreaking, peer-reviewed research, train healthcare workers on critical resuscitation skills and provide resources and supports for people living with heart disease and stroke and their caregivers.”

Non-profits are not just about service delivery: the sector contributes $50 billion to Ontario’s GDP. Any shrinkage in the non-profit sector’s economic activity will not only impact clients and community members, but will have a direct effect on the provincial economy.

Food banks and homeless shelters are feeling the strain. Doireann Fitzpatrick, who works at St. Luke’s Table in Ottawa, an outreach of the Anglican Church, says that they have gone from feeding 100-140 people a week, to 200 a day. In April, they served an amazing 12,600 meals, all with a reduced staff of between 5 and 7 people. Costs for the work have risen from $2,000 to $5,000 for the same period.

This increase is largely due to the fact that, instead of having clients come to St. Luke’s for meals, the centre has to deliver the food in vans which have had to be rented. And because of the restrictions that are in place, every sandwich, every meal, has to be individually packaged.

Instead of having clients share the jar of peanut butter on the table at St. Luke’s, every portion of butter, dressing, and desserts have also to be individually packaged and delivered. Labour-intensive work, being performed by smaller staff. Doireann goes to St. Luke’s even on Sunday, to get a start on the 250 sandwiches that have to be made for Monday’s deliveries.

The local community have been incredibly generous: one group donating hundreds of sandwiches, and local restaurants, only open for take-out, working with organisations to donate whole meals.

Doireann is most eager to let people know that the homeless she works with have always known social distancing, as the public generally stay at least six feet away from them in normal times. But now, with few [people on the streets going and coming from work, there’s no-one to hand them a few coins to buy a coffee, or get a meal. “Before covid-19, they were ignored: now they’re completely invisible”. The extra demand this puts on the three shelters where they find meals has been significant.

The City of Ottawa wants St. Luke’s, the Well, and Centre 454 to reopen, but without financial support, these centres won’t have the staff to cope. Even the social workers attached to these centres are helping with food preparation and delivery. Soon, they will have to return to regular work reaching out to the homeless on the streets.

We must support all the food banks in our community, Salvation Army, House of Lazarus, and the Knights of Columbus. If you have more to give, contact St. Luke’s Table too. www.stlukestable.ca. Another issue on which light needs to shine in the After Times, when we return to “normal”, whatever that may be.

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