Chez Doris women's day shelter gets $1M gift from retired Montreal businessman

Chez Doris, the only women's day shelter in Montreal that's open seven days a week, has received a $1-million donation from retired Montreal businessman Andrew Harper.

Andrew Harper, 95, made his money from imported cookies and chocolates

Andrew Harper said he wanted his donation to make an impact in the lives of women in difficult situations. (Submitted by Chez Doris)

Chez Doris, the only women's day shelter in Montreal that's open seven days a week, has received a $1-million donation from retired Montreal businessman Andrew Harper.

The shelter provides its clients — many of them coping with homelessness, poverty, mental illness and addictions — with meals, access to showers, hygienic products and clean clothes as well as a wide array of activities and counselling.

Harper, who ran A. Harper Associates Inc. with his late wife Carole, made his money importing and distributing specialty cookies and chocolates.

The donation comes only months after Chez Doris was forced to carry out major renovations to its building, located on Chomedey Street, at the western edge of downtown.

"After having almost closed our doors in 2014, not to mention the major work that had to be done on our building in 2017, this exceptional and unexpected donation will allow Chez Doris to realize its mission on a larger scale," said Marina Boulos-Winton, executive director of Chez Doris, in a statement.

She said that during initial discussions with Harper and his accountant, his contribution went from $10,000 to $1 million.

"Given the sheer number of women Chez Doris has helped over 41 years as well as its vision for the future, Mr. Harper was convinced that his philanthropic gift would have the greatest impact," she said.

Marina Boulos-Winton, executive director of Chez Doris, said this donation will help them to expand their mission. (CBC)

The annual operating budget of Chez Doris is $1.68 million.

When they had to do repair work on the building last year, private donations paid for $660,000 in construction costs.

In the last fiscal year, 551 women visited Chez Doris for the first time, representing nearly a 60 per cent increase of new visitors over the year before. The shelter gets roughly 26,000 visits from 1,600 different women every year.

"I felt my growing responsibility to give back to the community," said Harper.

"I wanted to contribute to an organization which helps the most disadvantaged and which is not far from my own neighbourhood."