Nova Scotia

Halifax charity left in dark after federal student grant program cancelled

The founder of a prominent Halifax charity says she's feeling left in the dark after its retail store was promised funding through a federal summer student grant program — but that program was later cancelled.

Souls Harbour Rescue Mission has nine student volunteers originally funded by Canada student service grant

Michelle Porter is the CEO and co-founder of Souls Harbour Rescue Mission. It operates soup kitchens in Halifax, Truro and Bridgewater. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

The founder of a prominent Halifax charity says she's feeling left in the dark after its retail store was promised funding through a federal summer student grant program — but that program was later cancelled.

"I think the ones who are suffering are the charities and then ultimately the students," Michelle Porter, the CEO and co-founder of Souls Harbour Rescue Mission, said in an interview with CBC Nova Scotia News At Six on Thursday.

Souls Harbour Rescue Mission operates soup kitchens in Halifax, Truro and Bridgewater and also a retail store in Halifax called Mission Mart. 

Porter said the mission lost about 60 volunteers due to the COVID-19 pandemic so when she heard about the Canada student service grant (CSSG), she immediately applied for 15 students.

Mission Mart is a social enterprise that sells donated items, with proceeds going towards Souls Harbour Rescue Mission. (CBC)

The CSSG is a $912-million program previously promised by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as part of $9 billion in COVID-19 financial aid for post-secondary students.

The program would have allowed students to receive between $1,000 and $5,000 for volunteering but it was recently cancelled after WE Charity announced it was pulling out of its partnership to administer the program.

Trudeau did say the federal government will now distribute the grants itself, but Porter hasn't heard anything from the government.

She said nine of the 15 students had already started working at Mission Mart before the program was cut — without any warning.

"We just had to make an internal decision because we feared losing our students," she said.

Porter said the store decided to keep the nine students and told them that if the federal government couldn't provide funding, the charity would step in.

She said keeping the nine students will likely cost between $15,000 and $20,000.

"Honouring the financial commitment puts us in a bit of a difficult position in that as a charity our mandate is to provide food, clothing and shelter for people," she said. "It's not to provide bursaries for students."

Porter said the charity has already started preparing to use store revenue to pay the students by raising prices on about 30 per cent of the items in Mission Mart and no longer discounting goods.

"It is a lot for a charity and especially at a time when a lot of that initial push at the beginning of the pandemic with grants and things like that — that's running out."

The CBC's Elizabeth Chiu interviewed Michelle Porter, the CEO and co-founder of Souls Harbour Rescue Mission, on CBC Nova Scotia News at Six on Thursday. 4:05

With files from Elizabeth Chiu

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