Islanders continue to give as grateful charities deal with high cost of living

Rising inflation and fuel prices have taken a toll on the charities that have worked to help the most vulnerable people on the Island during the COVID-19 pandemic.

'We know everybody on P.E.I. is feeling the pinch,' says United Way CEO

Halbert Pratt, co-manager of Pat and the Elephant, says the service hopes to be able to maintain the rates it charges clients. (Ken Linton/CBC)

Pat and the Elephant, a non-profit organization that provides transportation to people with mobility issues, went $9,000 over its gas budget last month.

So no wonder co-manager Halbert Pratt is grateful over some large donations that have allowed the service to operate without interruption so far.

"We just hope that we can keep the momentum," he said. "It's a lot of good people that know [and] recognize what the need is, and they're there to help us."

In late March, the province granted Pat and the Elephant an extra $47,000. And large amounts from multiple people have unexpectedly slid through the doors to help keep the accessible vans on the road.

A Lions Club donated $11,000 about a month ago, while the Charlottetown Y's Men's Club gave $3,000 on May 18, Pratt said.

'Feeling the pinch'

Other charities and non-profits are also trying to find ways to maintain important services as gas prices and inflation continue to soar.

"We thought we were seeing a bit of a light at the end of the tunnel moving forward," said Andrea MacDonald, CEO of United Way of P.E.I.

"But we know everybody on P.E.I. is feeling the pinch, whether that's at the grocery store, at the pumps, at wherever.… We're getting a lot more numbers that are related to some basic needs. Always food, shelter, mental health."

United Way of P.E.I. CEO Andrea MacDonald says she appreciates all donations, no matter how small. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC )

As costs increase, organizations are concerned people's ability to give will decrease — and having a heavy reliance on donations makes it harder to stay afloat so that Islanders can continue benefiting from the services they desperately need.

MacDonald said organizations that operate or own a building — including shelters — are often most affected by increased fuel and heating oil prices.

She said the crunch also affects those offering transportation and food.

"Every organization that's serving people — in particular trying to address some of the needs that community members have now — they're seeing it one way or another."

Pat and the Elephant, a non-profit organization that provides transportation to people with mobility issues, has eight accessible vans on the road with tanks that cost about $200 to fill. (Pat and the Elephant)

MacDonald said the province has rolled out a variety of programs offering financial support for charitable organizations, but they cover only short-term operational costs.

Organizations are beginning to ramp up fundraising efforts they may have put off during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

MacDonald said 70 per cent of United Way's donations come from individual Islanders, but their dollars are also being stretched with the high cost of living.

'Islanders are so giving'

"We know Islanders are so giving," she said. "But we are worried that we will see a decrease in the amount of people who are actually able to give back in the way they have in the past."

Still, she hopes people will try to contribute as much as they can, no matter how little that is.

"We do have people who have reached out to us in the last year and said, 'Listen, I know how challenging it is for people. I don't have a lot, but I feel compelled to give right now.' And so we really appreciate that."

Shelters such as Blooming House are often affected by rising costs of fuel and other goods, says Andrea MacDonald of United Way. (Laura Meader/CBC)

MacDonald wants to reassure those who are struggling that support is still available. United Way's resources get updated regularly as government announcements are made and new programs are launched, so she encourages people to call 211 to learn what they may be eligible to receive.

"Our sector is strained but … everyone is still working diligently to provide resources, whether that's the non-profit sector or the government," she said.

'We've got to be careful'

Meanwhile, Pat and the Elephant plans to do everything it can to maintain its current rates for the 100 or so clients it serves each day, Pratt said.

It won't be easy. With eight vehicles on the road, each tank of gas costs as much $200. 

And even though donations continue to roll in, Pratt said he is mindful of not spending too much.

"We can only go to the well so many times, so we've got to be careful," he said.

"We don't want to be crying all the time. We're working hard on our part to make sure we can keep our costs down as much as we can."


Mikee Mutuc is a reporter and producer with CBC P.E.I. She was previously based in Toronto, and has worked on stories for CBC's The National, CBC's Cross Country Checkup, CBC Toronto and CBC Kids News. She graduated with a bachelor of journalism degree from Humber College in 2019. You can email story ideas to:

With files from Angela Walker and CBC News: Compass


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