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Calgary charities, non-profit groups list their urgent needs on website

Eva Friesen , president and CEO of the Calgary Foundation.
Eva Friesen , president and CEO of the Calgary Foundation.

The Calgary Foundation has invited local charities and non-profit organizations to list their immediate financial needs during the COVID-19 pandemic on its website in hopes of spurring private donations, while officials sort out how to disperse funds from its own Pandemic Recovery Program.

The massive list has revealed the overwhelming needs of nearly 160 organizations and counting, with some reporting shortfalls in the millions of dollars.

“We pondered how we could best help and wanted to move fast,” said Eva Friesen, president and CEO of the Calgary Foundation.

“We thought the best thing we could do in the short run is to give charities a place to put their needs up, uncensored by anybody. To put up what they want to get out there. We thought the best, most equitable thing we could do is just create the platform and invited charities to give us their story.

“To our absolute amazement, one week later there is 150 and it grows continuously. We know there has been a lot of interest. When people ask us what the needs (are) out there today, we can just direct them to that site.”

The response was so great and fast, the foundation is working on ways of reorganizing the list and creating ways for visitors to search various categories or for specific groups. For now, the vast list presents a grim picture of dozens of groups throughout the city that are facing financial crises due to cancellations of fundraising initiatives, lost revenue and, in some cases, increased need of their services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The groups run the gamut in terms of the services provided and amount of money needed. Examples include: the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, which pegs its needs at $2 million; the Alberta Hunter Education Instructors’ Association, which is requesting $400,000; and, Stars Air Ambulance and the Calgary Food Bank, which have both stated “any amount is appreciated.”

The Boy and Girls Club of Calgary — which runs group homes, an emergency shelter and community-based programs — is requesting more than $2 million to cover COVID-19 related costs, including employee re-training and increased staffing needs, cleaning supplies and losses in fundraising, donations and the revenue it receives from various programs that it has had to cancel. Staff members that would have traditionally worked in pre-school programming or with the children of new Canadians, for instance, are now being deployed to the front lines of group homes or the shelter, which requires a different set of skills.

“We are not an organization that likes to say the sky is falling; we just try to adapt and be resilient and figure things out,” said Jeff Dyer, executive director of The Boys and Girls Club of Calgary. “But this is real. Revenue goes down and expenses go up and you are in a $2-million pickle.”

Alberta Adolescent Recovery Centre (AARC), which is requesting $250,000, is now operating as a residential treatment centre for youth struggling with addictions. That means all of the clients that would usually be sent back into the community — to spend nights in the private residence of families who are further along in the recovery program — are now being housed at the centre overnight. The additional need for supplies and staffing has led to an increased cost of $5,500 per week. The organization has also had to cancel its biggest fundraising, the Miracle Gala, which had been set for May 6.

“When I tell the new parents, if this continues I may have to send your kid back home, it’s terror for them,” said Dean Vause, executive director of AARC. “They can’t handle their kids at this point. But what are you going to do? That’s the position we’re put in. But we’ve been here 28 years and we’re survivors. Whatever it takes to keep the doors open.”

To be clear, the organizations are not requesting these amounts from the Calgary Foundation directly, but Friesen says the list will provide information as the foundation begins to develop criteria for its own $3-million Pandemic Recovery Program. Those guidelines will be made available on the foundation’s website.

“The Calgary Foundation may well make contributions to some of these and that’s a process we’re working through,” she said. “But that’s not the reason they put it up there. It was a vehicle to let it be known. There are a lot of private foundations that asked us to help them wade through the needs. Anyone who wants to make a donation can go there and determine what they want to make a contribution to. Charities do not expect the Calgary Foundation to do it all. We would never have the ability to. There are 150 charities and the asks are from $2 million down to $10,000. They’ve all used different methods and we did not censor.”

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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