'We need donations more than ever': Cambridge, Waterloo charities, organizations struggling with financial loss during COVID-19

·3 min read

Local non-profit organizations are facing an uncertain future during the pandemic.

An Ontario Non-profit Network survey found one in five non-profits in the province were likely to close by the end of the year.

At Kinbridge Community Association in South Galt, registration fees for recreation activity has dropped 95 per cent due to COVID-19, said Joe-Ann McComb, the executive director.

Three major projects were cancelled this year and the organization has seen drastic reductions in social activity as programs for seniors and youth have been cut or reduced. A kid’s summer camp that typically had 100 kids was only able to “have eight indoors,” McComb said.

Langs in Cambridge, a community centre and social services organization that runs dozens of programs for a low-cost or free, has lost $62,000 in revenue this year due to loss of room rentals, walking track fees and program fees, said Jeff Hunter, fundraising and communications co-ordinator.

The groups continue to have a positive influence in their community despite limitations, though. This includes online cooking classes, homework study groups and social services programs that continue to run despite added costs.

Social media and electronic newsletters have helped secure some COVID response funds which was received “really well by the community,” said Hunter. However, making up for the costs of PPEs will be difficult the longer the pandemic goes undefeated.

As programs move online, a lot more time and money is being invested to run them virtually. The need for the purchase of equipment like webcams has risen not only for staff members, but also for participants. This includes loaning out webcams and tablets for those who had no way to join the programs.

Explosion of grant requests

Grant requests from the community have “exploded,” said Anne Lavender, executive director of Cambridge & North Dumfries Community Foundation (CNDCF).

“You can't bring people together for a big dinner. You can't fundraise. You can't even have, like, a bake sale, because nobody will come. Even if they did, you wouldn't be able to let them into your building,” said Lavender.

An Angus Reid Institute poll from September found there was a 37 per cent reduction in charitable giving among donors in Canada during the pandemic.

The Canadian Government’s Emergency Community Support Fund (ECSF) delivered funding of over $2 million in two rounds for the Waterloo Region, said Lavender.

The money was given to “support people experiencing heightened vulnerability,” said CNDCF in a media release announcing receipts of part of the money.

“It was a great deal of money. But ultimately, the amount that was requested was five times what we were given to distribute,” for her foundation, Lavender explained.

Greenway-Chaplin community centre has adapted to the challenges this year by sending out meal and science kits for participating children and hosting YouTube videos on science, working out and cooking.

The group was one of the many non-profits who weren’t able to secure ECSF funding. Programs and events have been completely cut for many smaller groups and associations contacted by Cambridge Times in Kitchener and Cambridge.

At this point, “we don’t do a lot of fundraising,” said Emily Jaarsma, executive director of Greenway-Chaplin Community Centre. The organization typically relied on program fees for budget and services, which have all decreased. Staff are being supported through government wage subsidies, and there has been cutbacks felt in “all of our programs in general,” she noted.

McComb said as social activities have gone down for most people, studies point out that mental health and well-being are being impacted. Her organization’s activities for youth and seniors “fills the gap.”

Demand for programming from parents and seniors remains high. McComb said donations of any amount would be appreciated, even lending an “extra hand.” Hunter likewise reminds those interested to go on their website and click on the ‘get involved’ page to make a financial donation.

“We need donations more than ever to sustain vital programming.”

Swikar Oli, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Cambridge Times