Among the myriad complications the COVID-19 pandemic poses to holiday planning, not the least among them is how charities and community organizations are collecting donations this year.
Whereas in normal times, dropoff spots for donations of clothing, toys, food and other goods seem to be everywhere, current health protocols combined with the fact that there are, quite simply, less places to be out and about, are in some cases creating obstacles for groups looking to help the less fortunate. This is especially true at a time when the number of people in need of assistance is larger than ever.
One national outreach program has found a novel way to tailor its campaign to the times this year, and its Montreal bureau communications coordinator and local journalist Olivia Collette took time to explain to us by email what her association, Basketeers, is doing to help women who will be leaving shelters around Montreal during the holiday season.
Collette points out that in addition to the public health crisis, a side effect of the COVID-19 crisis has been an increase of domestic abuse cases, and in women deciding they’ve had enough.
“Can you imagine how scary it must be to know that if you leave, you’ll have nothing?” Collette asked by email.
Usually, Basketeers volunteers fill up a laundry bin of goods and products women starting over can count on for a boost, but this year the group has elected to create baskets with gift cards for stores that provide basic home and living accessories.
We decided to find out more about this initiative and share it with our readers as we approach an altogether different type of holiday season.
Darcy MacDonald: Please describe the Basketeers program, how it began, and how collection of donations has been impacted by the pandemic.
Olivia Collette: The Basketeers is a nationwide volunteer organization founded by Cheryl Stoneburgh in Toronto 20 years ago. We start with a laundry basket and fill it with brand new household items. Then we donate those baskets to women’s shelters, who then give a basket to a woman leaving the shelter. It’s a tangible way to help women get a fresh start in life, and it’s also an easy thing to do as a volunteer because the task is really simple. Volunteers could be anyone at all. We’ve received baskets from individuals, office groups, and even a cheerleading squad.
Each year, we organize a basket drop-off at a meeting point so that volunteers can drop off their baskets, and so that participating shelters can collect them. But because of the pandemic, we didn’t want to put people at risk with a drop-off, so we started thinking of other ways to provide help, because shelters need it.
A lot of women who come to shelters are fleeing domestic abuse, and domestic abuse has been on the rise since the beginning of the pandemic. Where we landed was to have people build gift-card bundles and send them to our mailing address.
This year, we’ll be donating gift-card bundles to the Shield of Athena and the Native Women’s Shelter. We’re hoping to get to 25 gift-card bundles, but if we surpass that goal, we’ll add another shelter.
DM: How can readers donate and what are some of the most sought-after types of cards needed at this point in the campaign?
Collette: Our shelter outreach coordinator Marla Cable asked participating shelters what kinds of cards they were looking for, and they suggested cards from Winners and grocery cards.
And when you think about it, it makes sense. A lot of women leaving shelters won’t have many possessions, so they’re often starting from scratch. They need to eat, and they need something to wear if they’re looking for work. I like to help these women build their kitchens, so I also included a card from Canadian Tire so she can get herself some kitchenware.
And it’s very easy for readers to participate. They can build their gift card bundles and send them to our mailing address (see bottom of article) by or before Dec. 12.
People often ask how much they should spend on a basket or bundle, and the answer is: whatever you can swing.
My bundle is worth $260 (see video for tips on building your bundle), some are valued at $150 and others at more than $300. It’s down to what you can afford. It’s fun if you can get other people involved, like your friends, family or colleagues. That way each person can be responsible for donating a specific card at a specific value. You can build bigger bundles that way, or more of them.
DM: How are recipients for the baskets selected?
Collette: They’re not, really. Or at least not by us. We give the baskets to the shelters, then they give them to women as they leave. We leave it to the shelters’ discretion to decide which women they’ll give baskets to (or in this case, gift-card bundles).
DM: How did you become involved with this initiative?
Collette: I was actually asked to cover the first-ever Basketeers drop-off in Montreal for The Gazette. The chapter in this city was founded in 2015 by Rachel Auclair, who now runs the Montérégie chapter. I liked the idea so much that I decided to build and donate a basket that year, and every year since.
I was inspired to get involved because I know first-hand that when you decide to leave a terrible situation like domestic abuse, you often have to leave suddenly, and very quickly make your peace with the fact that you won’t be leaving with much.
It’s important to remember as well that many abusers use money and possessions to control their victims, threatening to take it all away if the woman dares to leave. I was reminded by Rachel in 2015 that when we wonder why women don’t leave, we may not consider how scary it is to have to weigh having nothing and having something. When victims stay in abusive relationships, they might be telling themselves, “At least I’ll have something instead of nothing.”
The thought of helping a woman out with this important step in her new life is what drives me to keep the Basketeers going each year. Whether it’s housewares in a basket or gift cards they can buy things with, giving these women access to brand new things gives them a boost, and it lets them know that there are people out there who care and are very invested in their wellbeing. ■
Basketeers collect gift cards until Saturday, Dec.12, inclusively. Please mail them to Montreal Basketeers, P.O. Box 52506, BP Castelnau, Montreal, QC, H2R 3C5. Donors interested in giving cash for the creation of gift-card bundles can email email@example.com. Please visit the Basketeers Facebook page here.
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