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Philanthropic Pursuits

Edmonton has endless ways to give back. Here are a few of them.

Preparing layettes at Basically Babies. CREDIT Basically Babies.

During the holidays our thoughts are turned to giving back, but the need to give isn’t limited to the Christmas season. Today we will see how four organizations keep that spirit of giving going all year long, and how you can get involved.


Basically Babies

When Shannon Stewart and several of her good friends had young children, they were overwhelmed with the plethora of baby items they received. They wanted to share the clothing, toys and supplies with young parents in need.

“We collected about six boxes of items in my basement,” says Stewart. “Working with a few different offices (pediatricians, obstetricians, etc.), we made layettes for babies that were in extreme situations.”

That was 25 years ago. Now, Stewart is the president and founder of Basically Babies, overseeing a massive warehouse in Edmonton’s west side where 460 volunteers prepare and distribute between 800-1,000 layettes each year – a far cry from the 12 layettes Basically Babies made in year one!

“We have seen substantial increases in need year to year,” says Stewart, citing a variety of influencing factors from economic fluctuations to lack of affordable housing.

Basically Babies has an annual Mother’s Day brunch and silent auction fundraiser, and this year also debuted a Christmas market. There is a lot of oversight and due diligence with the fundraising.

“We are very careful,” says Stewart. “We know people are trusting us with their funds. We have a sound budget every year. We have a strategic plan. We have a dedicated and careful board. We are mindful of those things.”

Stewart continues, “Other than funds, our biggest need all the time is sleepers in sizes 6-12 months. We need 18,000 sleepers for the next year. About 15 go into each layette because they are such a key item. Another need is 1,500 snow suits for the next year. A snow suit goes into each layette, but our winter layettes get two snow suits to accommodate growth for the next winter.”

Stewart, says “There is no way we could do any of this work without our volunteers. Most of the management, including myself, are volunteers. Inventory, making outfits, equipment, hanging things, washing things, making layettes, mending, going out and receiving donations, community events – pretty much anything and everything that can be done by volunteers it is done by volunteers.”

Basically Babies has now launched a pilot project in Calgary and continues to help support disenfranchised parents in Edmonton. Visit them online (www.basicallybabies.org) and on Facebook (@BasicallyBabies).


Edmonton Food Bank

“Every month the Edmonton Food Bank serves an average of 22,000 people through our hamper programs alone, of whom approximately 40 per cent are children under the age of 18,” says Samantha Potkins, special events & communications coordinator. “In addition, Edmonton’s Food Bank is a central warehouse and referral centre for more than 250 agencies, churches, schools and food depots. We also provide nearly 500,000 meals and snacks to programs and schools around the city. Throughout the year we provide food support to agencies, such as Hope Mission and Bissell Centre, so these agencies can provide food services directly to their clients. Over Thanksgiving we provided 28 agencies with food for Thanksgiving meals, which includes over 950 turkeys and hundreds of hams.”

The need for food bank services soared during the recession, and despite the economy bouncing back, food insecurity is on the rise. Potkins admits, “In 2016, there was a considerable increase in the number of people accessing our hamper programs; any decrease has been minor and not sustained. The number of clients we serve is considerably higher than it was in 2015.”

There are many ways to support the food bank. Potkins explains, “Two of our biggest fundraisers during the festive season include the CBC Turkey Drive and ETS Stuff a Bus. On December 11, a performance by Canadian entertainer Tom Jackson, alongside a plated meal and silent auction, will make for a fun and festive night out at our Magical Christmas Music Gala. Also, non-perishable donations are always accepted at grocery stores and fire halls, and monetary donations can be made online at www.edmontonsfoodbank.com.

“Monetary donations are very important to our work – $1 equals three meals, so when we need to make bulk purchases to supplement the food donated to us, every dollar goes a long way. Monetary donations are also used to keep our vehicles on the road, the lights on and the coolers cool.”

You can also support the food bank by volunteering. “The contribution our volunteers make to Edmonton’s Food Bank is critical to our operation. In 2017 volunteers donated more than 85,000 hours,” says Potkins.


Youth Empowerment Support Services (YESS)

YESS provides immediate and low-barrier shelter, temporary housing and support for youth ages 15-24.

“Our daytime resource centre is home to a variety of programs including medical care, addictions, trauma, and mental health counselling, help with continuing education and employment, art therapy and programming, recreational activities, life skills and employment readiness, and help with housing resources,” says Margo Long, executive director. “Our 24-bed overnight shelter is the first step to preventing youth homelessness and helping youth heal. During their time at the shelter, youth are supported in identifying and working on the goals they set for themselves, identifying new resources and services based on their needs, and starting the process of building trust and healthy relationships.”

March presents a unique challenge for at-risk youth, due to a little-known “event” called gang tax season. Long explains, “The gang tax is a term used to describe when gangs follow up with potential gang members who are misbehaving or not responding well to direction.  They will ‘collect’ personal items or physically threaten or do physical harm to keep potential gang members in line. This can be a result of rogue drug deals (on the side business), bad or lazy deals, failure to follow through on directions (to attack, to deal, to kill, to steal, etc.) and more.  This is the time when youth feel the most fear and are faced with the harsh and scary reality of gangs.  At this time, they are the most vulnerable and chaotic with their problem solving and decision making, and exist in a state of panic.”

Long notes that it’s not just gang activity bringing disenfranchised youth to YESS. “Our vision focuses on one of the root causes of homelessness, addiction, abuse and mental illness in our society: trauma. Trauma affects the connections and healthy functioning of the brain and can also have a lasting impact on the ability to develop relationships. All of the youth we see are dealing with varying degrees of trauma and we aim to walk beside youth as they heal through healthy relationships.”

The need for YESS services is on the rise. “The number of youth who access our overnight shelter has stayed relatively steady over the past few years, but the number of youth who access our daytime resources has gone up dramatically. The age range for our resource centre (15-24) is larger than that for our shelter (15-21), so we see youth at our daytime programs who might not be able to access YESS otherwise.”

Donations are important for YESS’ operations. “Our operating budget this year is $4.2 million, and $3 million must be fundraised every year. Every December we run an annual campaign with a goal of raising a good portion of the $3 million we must fundraise to meet our budget and continue to run our programs. In April we host the YESS Gala for Youth at the Shaw Conference Centre. Monetary and in-kind donations can be made all year round. We count on donations to stock our kitchen and our donation room of clothing, shoes, and toiletries.”

For information about donating and items needed, visit www.YESS.org.


The Edmonton Community Foundation

The Edmonton Community Foundation (ECF) works with donors to support charities and causes by establishing endowment funds.

“The endowment model means that donors aren’t only supporting organizations now, but they are building a lasting legacy of giving that will support their community in perpetuity. That’s the power of endowment — it’s forever,” says Andrew Paul, communications advisor.

ECF was established in 1989 with a combined investment of $15 million by John and Barbara Poole, George and Rae Poole, and Robert and Shirley Stollery on behalf of their families. “Today we steward more than 1,000 funds totalling $562.5 million (as of December 31, 2017) and have granted more than $170 million to charitable causes since we formed. In 2017 alone, we granted $24.6 million,” says Paul.

Charities received ECF funds by applying for a grant; successful grants are selected by volunteers in the community that have experience and expertise in the sectors of the projects requesting funding. The board of directors vet the jury-selected grants.

“ECF grants more than $20 million/year and works with hundreds of charities. This gives us a unique perspective and the ability to identify emerging needs within the community. We will provide discretionary funding based on this community knowledge as needed. This typically happens through our Foundation Directed Initiatives,” Paul notes. “We also follow the wishes of our donors through our donor-advised funds. When a donor establishes an endowment fund with ECF, they get to choose how much involvement they have in the granting process. Some donors want to choose where their grants go. Others rely on ECF’s expertise to allocate funding through our various granting programs.”

Anyone can start an endowment fund. “There is a big misconception that endowments are for the rich. This is false. ECF can establish an endowment fund for as little as $10,000 and donors can take up to 10 years to reach that threshold. Once a fund reaches $10,000 it can begin granting.”

Why is giving back a passion for ECF? “There are myriad reasons,” Paul concludes. “Each donor has their own reason for why giving back to their community is important. In the big picture, ECF’s endowment model ensures that organizations aren’t entirely at the mercy of changing political climates. We are able to offer flexible, sustainable funding to help charities achieve their mandates.”

Learn more at www.ecfoundation.org.

Get Involved

These are just a few of the many organizations in Edmonton working hard to make sure everyone gets the support and opportunities they need. These initiatives are largely supported by donations and volunteers. For your New Year resolution, why not pledge to get involved and provide funds or volunteer hours? As one wise person once said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”