The holiday season is a time of giving, but it’s also a time to build community. In our province, we’re fortunate to have many wonderful organizations working year-round to improve our world by feeding the hungry, protecting animals, assisting the downtrodden, and doing any number of other good works on behalf of society.
We’ve listed a few that are worth thinking about if you have some spare dollars in your pocket to give away this month. The list is by no means complete, but perhaps it will open some readers’ eyes to ways to make a difference in ways that they might not have considered.
During the month of December, many nonprofit organizations put on special holiday events and increase services for people who have fallen on hard times. But for one group, most of those Christmas dinners and charity gift exchanges remain out of reach.
In a telephone interview, Joanne Webber, director of engagement for the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre (DEWC), explained that its clients often don’t feel comfortable attending those events.
“Women-only spaces are really important,” Webber explained. “It’s a critical service down here in the Downtown Eastside. Because of their trauma, they are not able to participate in coed spaces. So they can only come here. And so we will have a holiday meal and we will distribute gifts.”
To meet that need, DEWC is hosting three holiday events for women and their children.
She recalled one memorable mother-daughter pair who arrived at the centre at 5 a.m. to help cook pancakes for one of those meals last year. “The women were so happy to enjoy this food,” Webber said.
Webber said cash donations help the organization cover the cost of those events. She added that DEWC, which has operated in the Downtown Eastside since 1978, also relies on charitable contributions to help mothers ensure they have a present to give each of their children.
“People can donate unwrapped gifts to us and then we will wrap them—we have a lot of volunteers here—and this allows women to give their children gifts,” she said. “For some, this will be the only [holiday] celebration.”
Gift cards are a favourite, especially for mothers with teenagers. She recommended businesses like London Drugs and Chapters Indigo and tickets for a night at the movies.
DEWC also gives gifts to the mothers themselves and the women it works with who don’t have children. For them, Webber recommended seasonal clothing such as socks, underwear, gloves, and hats. “Things to keep warm,” she said.
Donations can be made by visiting the DEWC website or by calling Webber at 604-681-8480, extension 250.
> Travis Lupick
Some of the best pet owners are homeless people. Sometimes with few human friends, people without a place to sleep or at risk of becoming homeless care for their dogs, cats, mice, or rabbits with love and devotion that others might only feel for human family.
But, like anybody, sometimes these pet owners could use a little help. Paws for Hope is a registered charity based in Burnaby that offers just such a hand. Its Roxy’s Relief program supplies homeless, low-income, and elderly animal guardians with basic veterinary care, pet food, and other supplies.
“Our organization recognizes the positive impact pets have on vulnerable populations, including those that are homeless,” the project’s website reads. “This relationship is often their only constant source of companionship and at times can be the one thing that keeps them going.
“By providing basic veterinary care for vulnerable populations, we are helping to enhance animal protection by providing the care these animals need, which in turn will have a positive impact on the individual within the community.”
Paws for Hope also hosts animal health clinics for homeless and low-income pet owners.
In addition, the organization distributes funding to a number of pet-focused programs around the Lower Mainland that don’t focus on owners who are poor or homeless. For example, Paws for Hope works with organizations that spay and neuter animals, and its Pets Are Not Products program delivers information about the proper sale and transfer of animals in B.C.
Donations can be made at the Paws For Hope website.
> Travis Lupick
Help the marginalized
Pivot Legal Society doesn’t turn away from a good fight.
Based in the gritty Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, the nonprofit legal-advocacy organization has won an impressive record of victories for poor and marginalized people.
Pivot was among the intervenors in a case that led to a landmark decision in 2013 by the Supreme Court of Canada that struck down prostitution laws because they violated the constitutional rights of sex workers.
It represented the parties that initiated legal action to prevent the federal government from closing down Insite, the only low-barrier and legal supervised drug-injection site in North America. In 2011, the country’s top court upheld the facility’s exemption from federal drug laws, allowing it to stay open at its East Hastings Street location in Vancouver.
In addition to its campaigns on sex work and drug policy, Pivot does remarkable work on police accountability. To cite an example, in 2014 the B.C. government introduced new rules for the training and deployment of police dogs. This move came after Pivot released the results of a three-year study showing that dogs are the leading cause of injuries by police forces in the province.
Pivot also champions issues related to housing and homelessness. In 2015, the B.C. Supreme Court ruled in favour of homeless people who were represented by the group in challenging the bylaws of the City of Abbotsford against sleeping in parks.
Not bad for an organization that was initially run from the bedroom of lawyer John Richardson, who cofounded Pivot in 2000 with Downtown Eastside activist Ann Livingston.
To help Pivot carry on the good fight visit their website.
> Carlito Pablo
Kids suffer when a parent goes to jail.
Responding to this situation, the Elizabeth Fry Society of Greater Vancouver runs the first and only initiative in Canada that supports children with incarcerated parents, according to Karen McCluskey, a spokesperson with the charitable organization.
The endeavour, called JustKids, was launched in 2011, she said.
“The way we started working with children is that the majority of women in prison are mothers,” McCluskey told the Straight by phone. “And most of them are single mothers. So when they go to prison, their children are hugely affected. When a father goes to prison, the majority of the time, the child is looked after by the mother, but the reverse is not true.”
According to McCluskey, the initiative is also open to fathers in prison.
In 2015, a total of 1,702 children benefited from the programs offered under JustKids, McCluskey said.
Activities include a storybook program. Parents in jail pick from a collection of donated new books. They are recorded reading from the chosen book, then the book and recording are given to their children so they can always hear the voice of their parents.
Summer and spring camps are also offered to children. During summer camps, older kids are trained to become camp counsellors, which could be their first job, according to McCluskey.
The Elizabeth Fry Society’s JustKids initiative likewise includes a Saturday club, where kids can have a safe and welcoming space on weekends.
Kids don’t have to pay a price because their parents are in jail. To help visit the JustKids website.
> Carlito Pablo
Help preserve B.C.'s biodiversity
Even if you’re not rich, you can help set aside protected areas for B.C.’s bountiful wildlife, fish, and plant species. The Nature Trust of British Columbia’s portfolio includes more than 480 properties obtained through donations, purchase, or lease, and they include some of the most ecologically significant lands in the province.
For example, earlier this year the Nature Trust announced the completion of a 17-year project in the South Okanagan to preserve a rare antelope-brush conservation area.
“This habitat is disappearing at a faster rate than the world’s tropical rain forests,” the charity’s website states. “The South Okanagan has one of the highest concentrations of species at risk, such as the Behr’s Hairstreak butterfly.”
B.C. has 16 biogeoclimatic zones. And the Nature Trust’s properties are concentrated in areas where there are large numbers of people living, such as the east coast of Vancouver Island and the Georgia Basin, the South Okanagan, and the Kootenays.
One of its sites includes Vancouver Island’s Salmon River, which is home to all five species of B.C. salmon and Roosevelt elk. Migratory-bird habitat is protected around Boundary Bay in Tsawwassen. The Adams River, which is famous for its sockeye run, is part of another protected area, as is Wigwam Flats, which is home to bighorn sheep.
The Nature Trust first secures the land, often through acquisition. Students are hired to help restore and enhance the property as part of conservation youth crews. Part of their job is to remove invasive plants and garbage and install interpretive signs.
“With every donation a donor makes, we recognize the trust that is being placed in our hands,” the website states. “This is why our organization places a high priority on operating in a fiscally responsible manner.
“We carry no debt and no mortgages and undertake yearly audits. An investment and finance board committee establishes policies and reviews quarterly performances.”
If you would like to make a gift to help B.C.’s natural habitat, please go to the Nature Trust website.
> Charlie Smith