With a shared passion for the community, Rachel Boere, Heather Dewar and Mary Paquet, who met while working at a local non-profit, decided to take action themselves after realizing that many folks were slipping through the cracks of traditional social programming - especially throughout the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Inspired by community supported agriculture, an approach to growing and purchasing food that enables farmers and consumers to work cooperatively, the trio launched their own spin on this model, aptly named Community Supported Gratitude. Eleven weeks later and the women continue to select recipients nominated by the community to receive curated gift baskets full of products from local businesses, like breweries, restaurants and gift shops.
“All of us are pretty privileged [when it comes to] the COVID-19 situation and so we were wondering how we could give back a little bit,” explains Boere in regards to the percolation of their idea. “All of us thought that would be a good use of a lot of the free time that had come up.”
Community Supported Gratitude nominees “either are in need of a lift because the world is a hard place to be in right now, or are doing exceptional work during the time of the pandemic,” explains Boere, and partnering with Together Apart, a social media startup that provides a database of local businesses to support during COVID-19, has made selecting products and services to gift that much easier.
“That was an important part for us because we had seen a lot of giveaways happening around the city but we wanted to be able to financially support those businesses as well,” states Boere.
After receiving an abundance of over 75 nominations, the group had to suspend the call-out, instead deciding to select recipients from the existing pool because, as Boere puts it, “They were all so great. We were reviewing them and we wish we could give every single person one of these packages.”
With weekly themes that have included Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, the end of the school year and support for frontline workers, recipients have ranged from a security guard, safe injection site nurse and the entire staff at the Elgin St. Dollarama location. Boere ensures to highlight the storytelling aspect of their project, viewable on Together Apart’s social media pages, because she says that it’s important to realize the individual stories behind what's happening in the city at this time.
Although the women have been able to fund the initial stages of their project using their own finances along with tapping into their generous personal networks, they were certainly thrilled to find out that they were on the receiving end of a gift this month. Awesome Ottawa, an initiative that allocates monthy micro-grants, awarded them $1000 as the beneficiary for July, which will help them in adjusting the model moving forward.
Although the format will remain nomination-based, Boere explains that they will likely have a larger focus on gift cards and will award more than one gift per week. Furthermore, they will potentially share participating businesses in advance to allow for a better match between the nominees and featured products.
Boere admits that the future of Community Supported Gratitude depends on how the pandemic unfolds saying, “We all know it's pretty hard to plan in the times of COVID. We’ll see how it plays out in the next couple of months with the amazing grant we have and decide if the project is still important and relevant to the community in the fall, take next steps and look for more funding. We’ll just have to see how it pans out.”
In the meantime, Boere is simply tickled to see the waves of support and the impact that can be made at the community level. “Every single person has somebody in their lives who [inspires them] and that makes my heart happy.”
To nominate a deserving community member, or for more information, go to together-apart.ca