Sandra Richardson: Small contributions can lead to great impact

{This article originally appeared in the Victoria Times Colonist on Tuesday, March 24, 2020.}

When the Victoria Foundation was established in 1936, it was because of community need. The region was living through the darkest days of the Depression, and Burges Gadsden, our founder, was working at the Sunshine Inn, a soup kitchen on Pandora Avenue.

These were tough times for our region. The stock market continued to languish, money was tight, and people were hungry, but Gadsden knew he could help by starting an organization with a solid source of funds that could provide support to charities helping our region’s most vulnerable citizens.

So, with a modest first donation of $20, from Gadsden’s mother, Fannie, and an act of the B.C. legislature, the Victoria Foundation came into being. It was Canada’s second-ever community foundation.

Now, 84 years later, our region is facing another crisis. In fact, the situation in 1936 is sounding all too familiar right now, but with the COVID-19 pandemic as the cause of it all. Our stock markets are plummeting, there are worries of food and supply shortages, and our residents are facing challenges we haven’t seen in recent memory, if ever.

What has changed is the Victoria Foundation. Now, 84 years since its start, the Victoria Foundation is the largest non-government funder in the region and a vital support system for charities in Greater Victoria and beyond. Every day, the Victoria Foundation works with agencies to understand and respond to their needs, putting us in a uniquely qualified position to help our charitable community when their vital work is needed most.

That’s why we were so eager to work with the Times Colonist and the Jawl Foundation to establish the Rapid Relief Fund, in support of our community during this unprecedented time of upheaval and hardship. We had the resources and the knowledge to quickly and efficiently establish the fund and distribute the money so generously donated.

And we knew the need. We spoke with people on the front lines of providing support to those struggling through this crisis, and we heard just how unique and challenging this situation is proving.

“This pandemic is increasing the need in our community for access to healthy fresh food,” Food Share Network coordinator Sonja Yli-Kahlia told us. “Many of the agencies in the Food Share Network are doing everything they can to reach those vulnerable members in our community who are struggling to find enough to eat.”

It was this sort of sentiment which led us to pick the first five agencies to receive the first $1 million raised, the Food Share Network among them. When times are tough it’s the basics that our region’s vulnerable people are in need of the most: shelter, food and health care.

For this reason, it was decided that the first funds would go to the Mustard Seed, the Stan Hagen Centre for Families, the Salvation Army Addiction and Rehabilitation Centre, the Food Share Network and the Coalition of Neighbourhood Houses Capital Region. Each of these agencies provides essential services to our neighbours who struggle at the best of times, let alone times such as these.

And even though we knew you would come through, we were still blown away by the response. What started as a week-long goal of raising the first $1 million was quickly reached in about a day and a half. We know through our regular work just how generous the residents of our region are, and I hope this initiative helps spread the word even further. What an incredible outpouring of support! It warms the heart and brings much-needed inspiration during these trying times.

We’re nowhere near done, however. The first $1 million raised is just that, hopefully the first of many. Once we reached that mark on Sunday afternoon, we increased the goal to $2 million and the funds have continued to come in ever since. To help us choose where the ongoing donations go, we have struck a community advisory group to determine the greatest need and the most effective ways to meet it.

This next million dollars will help us to support other agencies providing essential services. The ongoing funding will also help us to broaden our reach in the coming weeks. While the first $1 million will be rapidly deployed in Greater Victoria, we know that this pandemic and the hardships it brings are not strictly regional, and that the needs north of the Malahat and on the Gulf Islands are equally challenging.

Just as the Times Colonist covers and reaches these communities, so too will the Rapid Relief Fund.

So just as Burges Gadsden did nearly a century ago, we appeal to you, the people of our region and beyond, to help out however you can. When Fannie Gadsden made her donation of $20 to get the Victoria Foundation off the ground, she included a note that read “With the wish that I could afford $100 to so fine an undertaking.”

She may not have been able to donate as much as she wished, but my, what an impact the donation she could make has had. Here we are, still talking about it. So whether you’re able to donate $100,000 or $10, know that you’re making an impact at this key time. By working together as a community, we will get through this.

Sandra Richardson is CEO of the Victoria Foundation.