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“Knowing I have the support of my community is immeasurable.”
Those quiet words from one of Women in Need’s clients speaks volumes as to the importance of the efforts, both of the staff and volunteers working every day in support of the organization’s initiatives, and the donors, shoppers and community members who support local women in need and their families.
“We support women in transition between crisis and wellness,” explains Shoko Sato, WIN’s marketing and communications co-ordinator, noting that for WIN, that “wellness” includes everything from financial independence to emotional well-being.
Now in its 21st year, Women in Need has grown to include three re-sale stores – Cook Street, Pandora Avenue and in Vic West’s Westside Village – whose revenue funds WIN’s many programs for women in transition and their families. The organization does not receive any assistance from government, which suits the message WIN is to get across: “We are able to model self-sufficiency by being self-sufficient ourselves,” says Sato, who came to WIN nine years ago as a volunteer during her first year at the University of Victoria. Following graduation, she was asked to come on staff.
For women ready to leave one of the local transition houses but in need of assistance to get set up in their own apartment, WIN offers the New Start Program. The women are able to shop for what they need in the WIN stores and also receive a package that depending on their circumstances can include furniture, kitchen items and more. WIN is able to help about two families each week through New Start, Sato notes.
Moving beyond initiatives to help women in crisis, WIN also offers what it calls Transformational Learning Programs, such as non-violent communication and healthy food skills for families, in addition to various workshops from local experts, such as Dress for Success – “different programs to help women get to the next step,” Sato explains.
Finally, Women in Need offers a Self-Sufficiency Program, which can help women with funding to help them on their path to independence, such as education, training, childcare or even a grant to allow them to start a business.
Founded by three local women, today WIN is somewhat unique in its model in that it’s designed as a non-profit community service co-operative, a more participatory approach that allows staff and volunteers to have a say in its operation and governance.
The WIN team includes about 55 volunteers, some who have been there for 17 or 18 years, helping in the warehouse or preparing donations for the store or distribution; others work in the stores, contributing as little as four hours a week.
“The organization itself draws people to it,” Sato suggests of WIN’s attraction to volunteers. “I think some people have a natural draw to programs that are helping women. It’s also a social environment where they can interact with customers or other volunteers. For some people it’s like having another family.”
Whether it’s volunteering or donating saleable items to the stores, all forms of community support are very much appreciated. “It’s been incredible – if we don’t have the donations, we can’t run any of the programs,” Sato notes.
Women in Need is one of the few local organizations that will pick up good-quality furniture for donation, meaning there is often a several week wait for the service, and Sato emphasizes that quality donations are essential. The cost for non-profit organizations to dump “donations” that aren’t saleable can be considerable and only take away from their ability to fund programs. A quick call to the donation co-ordinator can often answer the question as to whether the item would be a good fit; “she’s very good at asking all the questions to see if it’s something we can use,” Sato says, noting that its conscious effort to reduce waste earned WIN a CRD Eco Award.
In addition to quality furnishings, WIN will gratefully accept donations of gently used clothing for women, men and children, along with accessories, jewellery, books, linens, toys and household items. Cash donations are also gratefully appreciated.
Looking ahead, WIN is branching out, bringing some of its programs, such as the non-violent communication to the community, offering participation on a sliding scale, Sato says, encouraging people to visit the website to learn more: www.womeninneed.ca
And mark your calendars for WIN’s annual fundraising gala and fashion show, Fashion with Passion, in May, when about 20 local women in business and the community model outfits created from WIN’s stores. “It’s a way to show the guests both the quality of the items in the stores and what we do,” explains Sato. “The women have so much fun – it’s like a girls’ night out!”