Red Cross getting most of Ottawa's donations to help Fort McMurray fire victims

A charity watchdog thinks the federal government should be matching donations to local charities in Alberta after the fire in Fort McMurray, as well as matching donations to the Canadian Red Cross.

Ottawans still opening their wallets to help with fundraising efforts across National Capital Region

Conrad Sauvé, president and CEO of the Canadian Red Cross, said Monday that the charity has so far raised $54 million in disaster relief funds for Fort McMurray. But a Canadian charity watchdog says the federal government should be matching donations to local charities in Alberta, as well as Red Cross donations. (CBC)

The devastation caused by the Fort McMurray fire in Alberta continues to move people in Ottawa to open their wallets to the Canadian Red Cross, but a charity watchdog would like to see more support for other charities that are helping fire victims.

Still, the appeal of giving to the Red Cross is hard to deny after the federal government agreed to match all donations from individuals to the relief agency, dollar for dollar.
A Sasloves Meat Market customer enters a raffle for Alberta beef after making a donation to the Canadian Red Cross for Fort McMurray fire relief. (CBC)

The Canadian Red Cross revealed Monday people across the country have donated more than $54 million to date, outpacing the generosity following the Alberta flood in 2013.

Local fundraisers and donors say the Red Cross has become the obvious choice.

"It's a great initiative," said Ann Winfield, who made a donation Monday while getting groceries at the Real Canadian Superstore on Richmond Road.

Donating to Red Cross easy in Ottawa

The store is owned by Loblaw Companies, which is collecting individual donations across Canada.

Winfield said she'd been looking for a place to donate, and it helps when she knows her $10 will become $20 with the federal matching program.

We've been moved and heartbroken.- Ann Winfield, donor

"We've been moved and heartbroken. It felt like we wanted to do something. We had to do someting," she said.

That feeling is fuelling a lot of good will in the nation's capital. 

The Ottawa butcher shop Sasloves Meat Market held a draw Monday for a whole Alberta strip loin after collecting donations all weekend.

Owner Joe Diener said "it's the right thing to do," adding they came up with the idea while discussing how much the images from Alberta affected them.
Loblaws' Real Canadian Superstore in Westboro is offering customers in Ottawa and across the country a chance to donate to the Red Cross.

Staff at the store said people walked in off the street to donate without purchasing anything, adding up to more than $650 for the fundraiser. The store made the most of their customers' largesse by noting on a sandwich board outside they'd raised more than $1,300 with the federal government's matching donation.

The president and CEO of the Canadian Red Cross, Conrad Sauvé, was in Ottawa Monday to receive a cheque for $500,000 from Unifor, a union that represents thousands of workers in Alberta, including an estimated 500 who lost their homes to fire. The union is challenging its members to also give as individuals to take advantage of the federal matching program.
Ann Winfield says donating to the Red Cross is the obvious choice, because she knows her $10 will be matched by the federal government.

"We've seen this outpouring of support throughout the country," said Sauvé, who was visibly moved by the generosity. "This is a really extraordinarily strong moment in Canada of everybody expressing their solidarity."

Local charities short changed, watchdog says

But a charity watchdog is concerned local Alberta charities, such as the Edmonton Food Bank, may not be able to get the kind of public support they could have received if the federal government didn't restrict its matching program to one organization.
Sasloves Meat Market promoted donations to the Red Cross by highlighting the government's decision to match them dollar for dollar.

Charity Intelligence Canada monitors the work of charities and how they spend their money. The organization is recommending a number of local charities in Alberta which also need help.

"My concern right now is that Canadians are giving and giving and giving at enormous proportions, but are we forgetting those local front-line charities that do most of the heavy lifting getting these communities back on their feet," said Charity Intelligence Canada's managing director, Kate Bahen.
Unifor donated $500,000 to the Red Cross and challenged its members to donate individually to take advantage of federal program to match donations. (CBC)

However, Sauvé said local organizations do benefit from donations to the Red Cross. About 26 per cent of donations following the Alberta floods in 2013 went to local charities, he said.

The federal government also defends the decision to match only donations to the Red Cross.

"The Red Cross is providing essential immediate relief and assistance. The matching program will support Canadians' generosity right away. Over the long term, there will be opportunity to consider the support required for recovery and the partners to provide it," wrote Scott Bardsley, a press secretary with the Ministry of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, in an emailed statement.