Family Services of the North Shore won’t host what would have been its 35th Winter Family Ball this year due to provincial COVID-19 health restrictions on community events.
But the popular annual event’s importance for the community at large is even more important than the in-person gathering itself, according to Julia Staub-French, family services’ executive director.
“The spirit of the Winter Family Ball is really about families helping other families,” said Staub-French. “Many generations come to the ball. While it is disappointing to not come together to help the community, it’s without a doubt these same families – which is usually 450 to 500 people at the ball – who are giving in other ways.”
The event annually raises hundreds of thousands of dollars for Family Services of the North Shore, an agency that offers a number of programs and supports – from helping isolated seniors and families struggling to make ends meet, to community counselling support and an annual Christmas Bureau to help give those who need it a little extra holiday cheer.
This year in particular, the agency is seeing great need when it comes to reducing social isolation, providing food and offering supports to families in need during this challenging time, according to Staub-French.
“Our volunteers have made over 7,000 phone calls to people in the community to make sure they know that we’re here and they have support,” she said, adding that over the last six months volunteers have provided more than 1,000 bags of groceries and 1,500 meals to seniors in isolation.
In lieu of this year’s Winter Family Ball, Family Services of the North Shore has posted a link asking people to support families in need during the holiday season with donations going towards their grocery program, support services for people affected by COVID-19, and supports for women and children facing gender-based violence.
Likewise, on the eve of Hollyburn Family Services Society’s upcoming “un-gala fundraiser” – an annual tongue-and-cheek non-event the charity runs in order to encourage generous locals to support their work from the comfort of home – the organization is re-emphasizing the importance of the mock gala.
Observing how the organization’s fourth annual “no tie, no tails” fundraiser happens to fit in perfectly with this year’s provincial directive to not host any in-person community events, Hollyburn spokeswoman Joy Hayden notes, however, that other in-person events, such as the organization’s annual wine and cheese and women’s-only breakfast fundraisers, did have to be cancelled this year.
“Those were events we weren’t able to pull off this year due to COVID,” said Hayden. “Our needs have gone up. More people that were typically on the border are dipping into despair because of COVID-19.”
Hollyburn, which offers services to youth, families and seniors experiencing poverty, has loosely scheduled its un-gala fundraiser for Dec. 19 from 7 p.m. to midnight, though donations are encouraged at any time, said Hayden.
“We’re getting more requests for help,” she added. “It’s the local charity in your neighbourhood that’s really making a difference in your world.”