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KWCF ‘busier than ever’ channeling funds to local charities

In this edition of 'Following Up', we speak with KWCF, who steward donations to Waterloo Region-based charities

It might seem like an inopportune time to ask people to dig into their pockets and donate to charities amid a global pandemic. But some charitable organizations are finding it’s quite the opposite, as donors continue to step up in a big way.

Elizabeth Heald is the president and CEO of Kitchener Waterloo Community Foundation. She has seen the number of donations increase threefold this year; in a time when people are taking stock of causes that are near and dear to their hearts.

KWCF is channeling those charitable funds through impact investments and grants. To date, they’ve filtered over $1 million to 29 local organizations through the Emergency Community Support Fund.

“We were already set up to move money quickly,” Heald said. “We have grant streams that happen in the spring and fall, so we’re already set up to move money as quickly as we can. We had the infrastructure together to do it, but what we needed to do was understand where the needs were."

“That’s why we ended up deciding that for our funds, the $300,000, they were going to go to the health and safety of both the employees and volunteers of charities.”

An initial $300,000 investment filtered into Waterloo Region organizations, with a large portion providing personal protective equipment for their employees and volunteers. That total has now surpassed over $1 million thanks to a $850,000 grant from the federal government.

Considering how fast the COVID-19 pandemic took hold and forced organizations to restructure on the fly, KWCF moved quickly to channel those funds to the charities who needed it most during the early weeks of the outbreak.

“We first had to find out: ‘Where does the money need to flow to?,’” Heald said. “That’s where we started to see money needing to flow really quickly. Because it was really important that we had to do a small part to help charities keep their staff and volunteers safe.”

KWCF also doubled their number of grant streams year-over-year from five to ten. They helped institute funds like the Communitech This Too Will Pass Fund, the Farwell4Hire fund, and the Heart Beats Hate Fund.

All of KWCF’s grant funds support Waterloo Region-based charities, while approximately 90 percent of donations go back to local organizations.

“Our core purpose is to support Waterloo Region,” Heald said. “People have lost jobs; people have lost income. Charities are going to have even potentially a broader group of people to support going forward. It was really important for us that we helped those in Waterloo Region the best we could.”

The pandemic has forced everyone to rethink how they do business, and in particular, Heald marvelled at how the charitable sector has pivoted and stayed afloat during the quarantine.

One such initiative is A Better Tent City; an affordable housing project at Lot 42. They station a dozen miniature houses on the property to provide homeless residents a place to call home. KWCF helped steward the funds to get the affordable housing project off the ground.

“I’m so impressed with how all sectors, but how the charitable sector has just figured things out,” Heald said. “It shouldn’t be surprising when you think about the innovation that there’s something in the water in Waterloo Region. People have just pivoted their business model. All those organizations that have been able to thrive, or survive at least, and hopefully continue to thrive through this.”

Besides A Better Tent City, KWCF was involved with lending a million dollars to Hamilton-based charity Indwell to transform St. Mark’s Lutheran Church into affordable housing units for the region. It’s the latest project in KWCF’s renewed focus on affordable rentals and affordable home ownership.

“We’re doubling down on affordable housing,” Heald said. “We think housing was not affordable prior to the pandemic. Housing affordability is slipping through people’s fingers. It’s only magnified, right? We’re really committed to that priority of ours.”

With KWCF’s help, the region is well on its way. Along with Ryan Pettipiere, Waterloo Region’s Director of Housing Services, and Scott Higgins of HIP Developments, Heald is assisting to tri-convene a housing innovation roundtable on affordable housing.

Their goal is to find new and alternative methods to help get people off the streets and into a home they can call their own.
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