Canada Life-line

·4 min read

When the struggling business owners got the call a few weeks ago, it felt like they’d won the lottery.

Nearly a year into the pandemic, good news has been hard to come by for both Kings Park Child Care and San Vito Coffee House — especially if it’s something without any strings attached and particularly when it comes to monetary funding.

But now, the two Winnipeg businesses are part of only a dozen handpicked to receive $10,000 each, through a partnership between Canada’s leading insurance company and the primary network of commerce.

The 12 small firms being awarded the “Business Boost” grant are representative of regional areas and industry sectors across the country, Canada Life and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce exclusively told the Free Press ahead of a wide release today.

“Good people coming together is how Canadians have managed this crisis, and this is the very epitome of a good corporate citizen stepping up,” said Chamber president and CEO Perrin Beatty, in an interview. “It’s a business helping other businesses where governments are still behind.”

Recipients have been selected from over 4,000 applicants and hope to use the funding to keep their doors open, as thousands of companies face the risk of permanently disappearing.

“Truth be told,” said Dawn Forbes, executive director of Kings Park Child Care, “this isn’t just a way to save our bacon. It’s also a boost for our staff to keep doing the important work we’ve been doing as an essential service every single day, throughout all those many shutdowns and closures.”

As a facility that supports children and families, especially for kids with autism, Down syndrome and other medical or special needs, Kings Park has had to remain open since the onset of COVID-19. “But we’ve had to do that with barely any enrolment until this January and with most of our staff forced to be let go,” said Forbes.

“Everything’s been up in the air and it felt like we were always an afterthought in terms of restrictions and even support — especially from the province,” she said. “If it weren’t for some of the federal government’s support like the rent subsidy, I don’t know if any child-care centres would have even been able to hold their space to operate, let alone do anything else.”

For Geordie Wilson, who owns and runs San Vito Coffee House, it’s been a constant shift trying to keep his local eatery and café afloat.

When public-health orders and lockdowns first came into effect, Wilson tried to partner with delivery services like DoorDash, Uber Eats and even SkipTheDishes. Fairly quickly, the third-party payouts became far too costly to make ends meet and Wilson started to offer his own free city-wide delivery.

“We didn’t really have a choice,” he said. “Our bottom line was being impacted because they were frankly ripping us off. And yes, it felt like being a university student again, but so what? We just had to keep going to survive.”

Wilson even started to make videos for social media — something he called “kitchen karaoke,” for which he would sing popular songs but change their lyrics to be more coffee-centric.

“We’re not Tim Hortons and we’re not Starbucks, but we are something that represents what makes our city ours,” he said. “I know all our regulars by name and those people we saw every single day who couldn’t come in anymore. That’s why I did everything possible to keep people smiling and just keep trudging along.”

Stories like that are “truly the reason behind this kind of grant program,” said Jeff Macoun, president and CEO for Canada Life, in an interview.

“It’s the heart of what makes a local business more than just a business to a community. They represent the very cultural fabric of what makes a city or town,” he said. “We wanted to keep seeing that flourishing, especially at our company’s home in Winnipeg.

“It’s why we did this small part to help with that.”

Temur Durrani, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press