Empowerment and support, new initiative in Grimsby aims to ‘elevate’ women in the community

For Angie, help from other women in the community has meant food on the table and a roof over her family’s head, and above all, strength to persevere.

“It ensured that my kids got to play sports and not have to be the only ones who missed out. It's giving me the skills to know that I have the intelligence, strength, knowledge and education standing behind me that I have gotten from school,” said the 32-year-old nurse, who graduated from Mohawk College last year.

Ruby, a nursing student at Brock University, wants to remove the stigma of accessing food banks. The Brock University nursing student has been struggling financially without the support of her family and has been using community services.

“I don't have a supportive family. They still see this help as a welfare-type thing. That’s a stereotype type,” said the 21-year-old.

Both women — whose real names won’t be revealed for safety reasons — received a package with various products, from gift cards to grocery stores to self-care items such as bath and hair products.

Chosen by the Grimsby Benevolent Fund (GBF) — a non-profit organization that offers programs that support low-income households sponsored by local women entrepreneurs — the recipients were celebrated on International Women’s Day.

The celebration happened at the GBF Wellness Hub and gathered the women entrepreneurs who contributed to the package and launched ElevateHER, an initiative in partnership with the Grimsby & District Chamber of Commerce, which aims to “support and empower” women in the community.

GBF president Irene Podolak said the non-profit is all about honouring women within the community who have had challenges to overcome and “represent the strength and resilience all women want to have.”

Podolak said International Women’s Day is special to her.

“Even though I’m at the opposite end of my career, I still make it a point to share all my learnings with women and be able to make their road to success a little easier than for some of us who had to do it way back,” Podolak said.

GBF CEO Stacy Elia said the two recipients are “on the right path,” and that when women support each other, “greater things can happen.”

Chamber executive director Rebecca Shelley said she’s always wanted to recognize International Women’s Day from a business perspective and to connect with the community.

“You're only going to have a thriving business community if you have a thriving community as a whole that supports it,” Shelley said.

Lindsay Dressel has recently joined the non-profit as wellness program manager and said many families in the community have benefited from its services.

“We are promoting people being well, elevating themselves and moving forward with their lives,” Dressel said.

A care package or a haircut might seem small and can be perceived as vain. Still, it can give the confidence to conquer the world, explained Elisa Vandersloot, hairstylist at Shear Image, a woman-led salon boutique and one of the initiative’s sponsors.

Vandersloot believes it’s important to “uplift and encourage women” in the community.

“I grew up in a female-run business, and seeing them uplift and support each other through creativity and career development, being able to pull each up, especially after COVID, makes a huge difference,” said the 25-year-old.

Angie has been receiving assistance from GBF since the COVID-19 pandemic started when both she and her partner lost their jobs.

And though still short on funds — not to mention time — she said she strives to put herself out there to help others.

“Maybe I can do something different or know somebody who can help,” she said. “Even the simplest things can make a difference in somebody's world, especially for women.”

Ruby also plans to pay it forward after graduation.

“I so badly want to give back the way that they (GBF) gave to me. That’s my goal.”

Beatriz Baleeiro, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Grimsby Lincoln News