Local charities are hoping for a Christmas miracle this holiday season as donations continue to be significantly lower than in previous years.
Our Place, which serves more than 1,600 meals per day, is currently sitting at around $250,000 in the hole, prompting staff to do everything possible to break even this year.
According to Our Place spokesperson Grant McKenzie, last year the charity was $100,000 below budget, but donors pulled through at Christmas so they were able to break even.
Being $250,000 short, however is making staff nervous as the need for services continues to grow. McKenzie believes the homeless camp on the lawns of the Victoria court house played a part in why donations are so low.
“People really saw the harshest side of homelessness. There’s so many different avenues to homelessness and so many different people, but tent city really put a strong focus on drug addiction and on a lot of people who are really at their lowest. I don’t think people were quite used to how fragile those people are out there,” said McKenzie, noting a group of people with serious addiction and mental health issues living unsupervised in a small space isn’t going to go well.
“Instead of it highlighting the need for support and services, people I think saw some entitlement, people saw some of the protesters who weren’t homeless themselves trying to make a bigger issue of it. I think it turned a lot of people off because they weren’t seeing those stories of hope and transformation, the types of stories that we see here every day.”
At the Mustard Seed, food supplies are good, but development director Allan Lingwood hasn’t seen the type of financial backing the registered charity typically receives from the community.
Some of its major fundraising initiatives haven’t picked up as much steam as past years. Recent reports show the Mustard Seed is $218,000 behind compared to last year at this time — a number Lingwood calls significant.
The challenge, he said, is that staff need to raise more than the $200,000 shortfall since it’s in a capacity building year thanks to a new warehouse in Esquimalt that’s doubled the ability to process food.
The Mustard Seed food bank has been at capacity since 2009, serving about 5,000 people per month. A significant rise in the cost of housing has also increased demand for services, which also includes an addictions recovery centre, family centre, and hospitality programs to serve basic needs.
Lingwood remains hopeful the community will respond as the holiday season draws near.
“There are so many international charities and so many other causes to contribute to — and they’re all good charities, but it’s a real shame when your local meat and potatoes charities that have done a lot for Victoria for so long fall on tough times,” said Lingwood, noting in 2012 the Mustard Seed had a $400,000 shortfall, prompting staff lay offs and short-term pay cuts, along with a public appeal.
“It’s a weight on my shoulders. The community will respond if we have to do that (make an appeal). We just hope it doesn’t get there. We would much prefer to maintain a message of a happy, positive outlook.”
The Victoria Cool Aid Society, which operates a number of shelters and support services, is experiencing the same downturn in donations, which have fallen about 11 per cent overall this year and 50 per cent so far for December.
Community relations coordinator Alan Rycroft said the community may have the impression the charity is doing great due to all of the capital dollars the province has invested in housing, but things such as meals for people dropping into shelters and other support services still need to be funded.
The Salvation Army has also yet to reach 50 per cent of its goal to raise $150,000 through its annual Christmas Kettle Campaign. The money raised from the kettles goes to purchase food for Christmas hampers that will be distributed to approximately 3,000 struggling families in Victoria. The funds are also used throughout the year for its overall operations.