If you have any spare toonies lying around, Paula Ferris wants them.
The Victoria resident is the founder and organizer of the Toonie Group. Once a month, she drives around the Capital Regional District and collects toonies from dozens of members in the group and donates the money to the Sandy Merriman House, an emergency shelter for women.
The group has been Ferris’ project for the past decade.
After working with the City of Victoria in social planning and housing, she often dealt with downtown service providers and overheard they were short on basic essentials such as toothbrushes, toothpaste and deodorant.
That’s when the single mother decided to take action.
She started by packaging 400 pairs of wool socks with toiletries for men and women for Street Link and Sandy Merriman House, both run by the Cool Aid Society, which she continued for a few years.
While she enjoyed giving to the less fortunate, Ferris decided she wanted to help people on a more consistent basis — that’s when she formed the Toonie Group.
The group started with 10 members, mostly friends and family, and has since ballooned to 100 members, mostly by word of mouth.
Now, the group also collects gently-used clothing, shoes, make-up, and accessories which are donated several times a month to the shelter, along with roughly $80 to $100 in toonies. On holidays, they provide ham and turkey to the shelter. Ferris has family members that knit roughly 50 to 100 scarves to be donated as well.
“If we all consistently gave to our charity of choice, whether it’s animals, seniors, kids, single-parent resource centres, homeless shelters — if we all picked where our passion lies and we consistently gave that little amount from a large group of people, it would have an affect,” Ferris said. “It would start to snowball and create some stability for these organizations.”
The Sandy Merriman House, which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary, has 25 shelter beds and four emergency beds for women. They also offer drop-in times where women over the age of 19 can have a hot meal and shower.
Christine O’Brien, coordinator for the shelter, said the money has been used for a number of things that are not in the shelter’s budget such as providing women with a movie night with popcorn and snacks, helping a woman pay for transportation costs to her granddaughter’s funeral, and helping another woman pay rent after her partner passed away.
“They’re giving us an opportunity to really tangibly help people. It’s amazing what they’re enabling us to do,” O’Brien said, adding the group has also helped raise awareness of the shelter.
“There’s people now that have heard about us that need to know about our services or know someone that can benefit from our services . . .Paula is like a guardian angel for us.”
Al Latreille, who has been with the group since it started, said he wanted to make a difference in his community.
“I think it’s just a bit of satisfaction knowing you’re helping somebody even though it’s not a lot of money,” he said. “You’re making somebody’s life better and giving them a good start.”
Pamella Mason, also a 10-year Toonie Group member, said she has become more aware of the less fortunate and strives to help them on a regular basis.
And Ferris isn’t stopping there.
She hopes to build the group as big as she can. For more information visit the Facebook page Toonie Group for SMH Homeless Shelter for Women.