Nfld. & Labrador

Donations let struggling Shea Heights daycare doors stay open - for now

The community has rallied around Panda Bear Daycare, giving it a bit of breathing room to stay open past its Friday closing date.

Community raised $10,000 to cover immediate costs

Crystal Hill, head of Panda Bear Daycare's board of directors, says the influx of cash will keep them going for the next three weeks. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

After a flood of community financial support, a daycare in the Shea Heights neighbourhood of St. John's that had said it would have to close its doors Friday is now able to stay open, at least for now.

At the beginning of the week, the situation at Panda Bear Daycare was dire. COVID-19 complications had forced its already struggling operation into a financial corner, and the head of its volunteer board estimated they'd need $20,000 immediately to live to see another week.

In five short days, however, fundraising efforts have paid off. Board chair Crystal Hill said $10,000 has been raised between parents, community members, and organizations like the Shea Heights Community Health Clinic, which pitched in $5,000 alone.

"I have to give full credit here to this community, because any time up here that anything, or any type of crisis happens, this community pulls together like you would not believe, and I can't thank them enough for doing what they've done," Hill said.

"All those efforts alone have given us the opportunity to sit back, get a little bit more out of it, and take a closer look, so we're able to keep those doors open right now."

Hard look at the books

This week's fundraising efforts will help the daycare catch up on what it owes to the Canada Revenue Agency, said Hill.

The cash has been combined with some painful belt tightening on the board's part, cutting staff and lowering the amount of kids they can take below their maximum 25 for now. The board will also be reaching out for donations of non-perishable food.

Hill said they've notified parents that all the measures combined have given Panda Bear Daycare three more weeks of operation, at which point the board will see where things stand.

"Right now, we're just going to take it week by week. I know that's unfortunate as well and it's hard for parents, it's hard for our staff, it's hard for our board. But we're willing to do everything we can to keep this daycare open," she told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show.

"Everyone is quite positive that this daycare is going to continue, and we're positive too. It's just a matter of 
keeping tight reins on things."

Extra little local boost

The Jimmy Pratt Foundation also got in on the financial boost to the daycare, and donated $1,000 in President's Choice/Loblaw gift cards.

Robyn LeGrow, the foundation's communications director, said she was moved to contribute to the daycare after hearing the St. John's Morning Show interview

"It's really important that we do everything we can to keep the not-for-profit [daycares] open.… This is a neighbourhood hub. This is an important place for families to come to be together," said LeGrow.

Hill said it's enough to feed the kids who attend for several months. 

Crystal Hill was surprised and moved by a donation from the Jimmy Pratt Foundation's Robyn LeGrow of $1,000 worth of grocery store gift cards. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

The daycare did receive compensation from the province when it was forced to close due to the pandemic, and continued to receive its operating grant.

In an email, a spokesperson for the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development said it was urging Panda Bear Daycare to reapply for that grant, saying there are a few "outstanding technical details needed from the centre" to wrap that up.

Hill said the board, which is made up entirely of volunteers, is working to get that grant, and anything else they can do, although that comes at a personal cost.

"We've taken on this as a volunteer role, but it's definitely become a full-time job," said Hill.

Newfoundland and Labrador is also set to receive federal funds through the Safe Restart Agreement, which the department says amounts to $10.2 million for the province's child-care sector. That cash has not yet been released to the province, although the department said that would be happening in "the near future."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from The St. John's Morning Show

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