The difficulty of fundraising during a pandemic has prompted four Niagara-on-the-Lake community members to work together to raise money for the Red Roof Retreat.
So far, they have donated more than $1,400.
Starting last October, Daniel Turner, Kathy Whitmell-Brown, Martin Mazza and Blair Cowan have been selling T-shirts promoting NOTL’s well-known Facebook group, “NOTL 4 ALL.”
“All the people involved have their heart in the right place. It’s just such a nice gesture,” executive director and founder of Red Roof Retreat Stephanie Bjorgan said in an interview.
Mazza has been selling the shirts out of his restaurant, Italian Pizza and Subs, and Whitmell-Brown has been selling them out of the Virgil Avondale. They have plenty left in stock.
“They’re locals, they’re taking on the work but it's the people from town who are buying the shirts. So, it’s a pretty good relationship,” Bjorgan said.
Red Roof opened more than 20 years ago. It provides an accessible NOTL getaway for youth and young adults with special needs and their families.
It has been closed since March 2020 due to the pandemic and the organization ceased its traditional fundraising events in part due to safety concerns but also to help with COVID-19 relief.
“(We knew) there were other charities that we’re going to need the funds,” Bjorgan said.
But donations are still needed for some basic necessities.
“We still have to keep our lights on and pay our bills and keep the property organized,” she said.
That’s where Cowan and Turner stepped in.
The two approached Red Roof with the idea of selling “NOTL 4 ALL” T-shirts to help out the non-profit.
“We just wanted to do good things for the community,” Cowan said.
“During COVID, everything’s tough and everybody can use some money. (Red Roof) do good stuff for kids.”
He and Turner are moderators and founders of the “NOTL 4 ALL” group. That group has grown to include more than 5,000 members.
Mazza, a frequent poster to the group, called it “Niagara-on-the-Lake's community FaceBook page.”
He said it is important to be using social media reach to help others.
“(Blair) has access to over 5,000 people from that page. Let’s put them all in touch,” he said.
“It’s about using it for good instead of evil.”
The shirts cost $10 to make and they sell for $20. But simply giving the charity half the money of every shirt sold wasn’t enough for Turner.
Turner decided to match the $10 raised by every shirt and has personally donated over $700 to the cause.
“I’m lucky enough to continue being employed through this tough time. It’s kind of my way of trying to help give back,” Turner said in an interview.
Whitmell-Brown said using her store as a platform to help charitable causes is essential to who she is.
She has donation jars on the counter of the store for several different charities, including Red Roof. By the end of the year she said she can usually donate $600 to the charity from the jar alone.
She said she raised $3,000 for regional food banks last year and had a hard time filling her shopping cart.
“I called them and said I had 750 pounds of food sitting in my living room and they came and got it. Then I donated 400 pounds to a church,” Whitmell-Brown said.
She said she loves the tight-knit community of NOTL and believes that spirit has made local charities successful.
“It’s because it’s a small town. You can’t do this in a city, the city’s a whole different place. There’s no city FaceBook page on which you can do this.”
T-shirts are still available at Italian Pizza and Subs, the Virgil Avondale or through contacting Cowan and Turner on FaceBook.
Evan Saunders, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Lake Report