Nova Scotia·Video

Unexpected gifts: Through generosity, non-profits in Halifax weather difficult year

2020 has been a time of fear, stress and uncertainty for many people, as businesses laid off workers and public health officials warned people to stay at home. In some cases, those who lost the most were the ones with the least to lose.

Despite hardship, many non-profits have seen instances of giving that are unexpected or touching

The fence of the playground at the East Preston Daycare is decorated with colourful designs. The daycare and the family resource centre are in separate buildings. (Shaina Luck/CBC)

2020 has been a time of fear, stress and uncertainty for many people, as businesses laid off workers and public health officials warned people to stay at home. 

Despite that hardship, non-profit groups in the Halifax-Dartmouth area have seen many instances of giving — some of them unexpected or touching — that helped agencies carry out their work. 

Miia Suokonautio, the executive director of the Halifax YWCA, says those who lost the most during the pandemic often were the ones who had the least.

"There are people who are working at the lowest paid jobs, the fewest hours," she said. "The service industry, for example. Caring fields. There's a lot of uncertainty in people's lives."

Miia Suokonautio is the executive director of the YWCA Halifax. (CBC)

The YWCA has "flowed through" approximately $450,000 to smaller service providers since the start of the pandemic, acting as a conduit for federal, provincial, and private money to get to agencies that work directly with people most affected by the pandemic. 

Relationships and trust

One of those agencies is the East Preston Family Resource Centre and Daycare, which usually serves about 300 families. However, that number has risen to more than 500 during the pandemic. 

The 26 staff members at the daycare and resource centre proceeded with their work even though their office closed down temporarily in the spring. It has since reopened, but during the lockdown the staff made care packages to drop at doorsteps with milk and diapers for families with babies. 

"It was challenging, but it was really rewarding to see that they knew we were still there for them," said Claudette Colley, the centre's office manager. 

The daycare has been running for 46 years and is one of the oldest in the area, with many programs for people ranging in age from babies to seniors.

Colley said it was important that the centre had already taken the time to nurture relationships with families.

Claudette Colley, left, is the office manager at the East Preston Family Resource Centre. Mike Brownlow is the board chair of the organization. (Shaina Luck/CBC)

"They already built that trust up with us," she said. "And, some families, it did take a lot to build that trust up because of past hurts. So they already had the trust before COVID happened. So just to continue what we were doing — we've been doing it for over 46 years," she said. 

Mike Brownlow, the chair of the centre's board, said the work was recognized by many in the community with donations. 

One day, a man from a car rental company showed up and dropped off a cheque for $1,000.

Another day, a couple brought a $5,000 cheque after learning more about the Black Lives Matter movement. Many Black families live in East Preston and the surrounding area. 

Surprise delivery

Sometimes even the contributions of government money arrived in an unexpected way. 

Suokonautio said about $100,000 of the money YWCA distributed came from Community Food Centres Canada, a national non-profit group that was responsible for distributing $11.5 million in federal funds for emergency food relief to the "most vulnerable" communities during COVID-19. 

The Halifax YWCA distributed about half of the grant in electronic form, where recipients could access the money by using an online code. 

However, some families have limited or no access to the internet, so Suokonautio said the YWCA asked to receive some money in actual gift cards for distribution. She was surprised by what happened next. 

"Then we also had — FedExed to my home — $46,000 in grocery gift cards. So I was laughing, I was like, 'This is a down payment on a house!'"

Surprise delivery brings $46K in gift cards to Halifax YWCA

2 years ago
Duration 3:08
A surprise delivery to the Halifax YWCA brought $46,000 in grocery gift cards from the federal government to help families struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic. CBC's Shaina Luck has that story.

Suokonautio and all the YWCA staff worked from home instead of the office because of public health restrictions.

She made a list of the codes on the back of the gift cards so she could track them and deliver a full accounting to the contributor, proving none had been used fraudulently or gone missing. 

A 'humbling' experience

Suokonautio has never seen government aid provided in this way before and has thought about what can be learned from it. 

"This was a huge exercise of trust, and trusting social service partners, and trusting our interest in community," she said.

She calls it a "humbling" experience to be asked to show that agencies such as hers have the ability and knowledge to help people through this time.

The East Preston daycare and family resource centre usually serves about 300 families, but during the COVID-19 pandemic that number has grown to more than 500. (David Laughlin/CBC)

Brownlow said he also hopes the centre's staff have shown to government they are able to make a difference at the grassroots level. 

"Government knows they don't have the resources to get into the community level," he said. "We know the community, our staff and our board are so knowledgeable of this community. They know where the problems are. We know where we can help."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Shaina Luck

Reporter

Shaina Luck is an investigative reporter with CBC Nova Scotia. She has worked with local and network programs including The National and The Fifth Estate. Email: shaina.luck@cbc.ca

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