Charities struggling to find safe ways to run holiday and winter campaigns during pandemic

·4 min read

Some charities in Windsor-Essex are struggling to find safe ways to do good this holiday season — in some cases cancelling programs altogether because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Unemployed Help Centre has cancelled its Coats for Kids program for the first time in more than 30 years. The program, which would have started the first week of November, provides winter jackets to children in need. It would distribute between 5,000 to 6,000 coats in a normal year.

"We just found no safe way to be able to not only collect the coats, but redistribute them to the clients in need," said Heidi Benson, executive secretary of the Unemployed Help Centre who is also the coordinator of the Coats for Kids program.

One of the biggest challenges would have been getting space for all the coats while maintaining physical distancing.

Benson added that the Unemployed Help Centre is trying to find some way to revive the program, but has not come up with anything yet.

"We have tried to come up with some alternatives, we're very much still in the brainstorming stage," she said. "Hopefully we could lay out something a little bit more concrete, especially with the colder weather just around the corner."

In the meantime, Benson encourages anyone who wants to make a donation to do so at the local Society of Saint Vincent De Paul.

While Assisted Living South West Ontario's "Be a Santa for a Senior" program will run this year, it will be missing its personal touch. The program delivers gifts to seniors and people with disabilities, but will not feature in-person visits from St. Nick.

Remy Boulbol, director of operations and strategy management at Assisted Living South West Ontario, says that social aspect is really important around the holiday season, and that the organization is already seeing the effect a lack of social contact is having on those it helps.

"What's missing [this year] is that personal touch, and that personal component," she said.

In spite of that, the program will still deliver sanitized gifts while maintaining physical distancing.

While it's not quite the same as previous years, she says that every little gift helps.

"It'll be hard for sure, and it will definitely be a missed component of everything that we do this holiday season," she said. "But we're going to do the best we can with what we've got."

The Windsor Goodfellows, a club responsible for many charitable initiatives in the region, is also questioning the safety of their 106-year-old winter charity event amid the pandemic.

Every November, club members and hundreds of volunteers fan out across the city selling special editions of the Windsor Star through the car windows to raise money for food and clothing programs for those in need.

Art Reid, president of the Windsor Goodfellows, said as of October 30 the organization is currently assessing the risk of hosting their annual event, and is aiming to decide the fate of the charity drive in the coming days.

"If we decide to do something different, then it's going to be a big impact on the association and on our ability to provide the services that we give to school kids and the homeless...and all the other people that we helped during the year," he said.

Last year's newspaper drive raised about $380K, about a third of the Goodfellows annual budget. Reid said raising the same amount of money through other means would be difficult, if not impossible.

"The only way we could raise that, I suppose, would be to go back to the to the public and say "can you help us?"And then hope that the public will support us through donations and contributions," said Reid.

"I personally have a lot of a lot of hope...I've seen things, I know that the Windsor people have come forward in the past for other events and other fundraising activities, and I think they've probably come forward to help us."

Reid said his organization does have options to consider when it comes holding the three day event in a pandemic safe way. He said usual COVID-19 protocols, limiting volunteers, altering the way the public gives contributions, and changing the location for newspaper pick up are all being considered.