British Columbia

Grassroots charity for struggling moms blossoms into movement

Robyn Brown was suffering from extreme morning sickness early on in her 2018 pregnancy, dehydrated and losing weight, she was throwing up dozens of times a day.

'They turned one of the absolutely scariest times of my life into something absolutely beautiful'

Shannon Christensen, founder of Mamas for Mamas, holds newborn Calianna Brown, daughter of Robyn Brown. Calianna's mother described the help provided by Mamas for Mamas as life-changing. (Robyn Brown)

Robyn Brown was suffering from extreme morning sickness early in her 2018 pregnancy. Dehydrated and losing weight, she was throwing up dozens of times a day.

The high cost of the drugs she was taking to ease her symptoms, and the fact her husband had to stop work to care for their two other children, aged 10 and three, put them in financial and emotional distress.

"We were drowning," said Brown, 29, who lives in Kelowna, B.C. "There was no program to help struggling parents while you are pregnant and sick."

During a hospital visit that year, a social worker suggested Brown get in touch with a group called Mamas for Mamas.

Robyn Brown with her husband Christopher, during the last of Robyn's hospital visits for treatment of hyperemesis before the birth of their baby on January 12th. (Robyn Brown)

Days later, at the charity's Kelowna office, Brown was shocked to learn her upcoming month's rent and credit card debt would be paid off. She was also supplied with a crib and car seat to bring the baby home.

"They turned one of the absolutely scariest times of my life into something absolutely beautiful," said Brown.

Mamas for Mamas

Brown isn't the only struggling mother helped by the group. Since 2014, the group has helped at-risk moms with everything from giving free clothing and toiletries, to emotional support and counselling with issues like homelessness, domestic abuse and postpartum depression.

What started as an informal support network on social media has transformed into a non-profit charity that has helped women and their kids in 54 chapters across Canada.

The chapters are all run by volunteers who connect women to resources in their communities, while offering online support.

Inside the Karma Market in the Kelowna offices of Mamas for Mamas, where clothes, diapers and toiletries are available for free. (Submitted)

Kelowna is the only chapter with a bricks-and-mortar space. The office houses a shop where everything from baby equipment and toys, to formula and furniture are given away for free.

A mental health clinic with a registered clinical counsellor that specializes in trauma is offered free of charge. 

"No crisis is too much for our team to handle," said Christensen.

The charity gets money from private donors, like the one who got Brown and her family back on their feet. Corporate sponsors donate mother and baby products, and companies make third-party donations by giving over partial proceeds of the sales of their products.

Members of the Kelowna team recently found a solution — and an early Mother's Day gift for a mom with a two-month-old baby who had been diagnosed with cancer.

They flew in her own mother from overseas.

"We quickly realized, if we could get her mom a visa and fly her in from the Philippines, we could actually reduce all of the issues this mom was facing," said Christensen.

The visa is expected to be completed this week and the $1,800 flight will be booked soon after.

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