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COVER STORY: This winter is... Harvest season on the North Shore
Charity has changed a lot in 20 years, say Harvest Project executives Gary Ansell and Kevin Lee.
The North Shore non-profit is on the cusp of entering its third decade of “providing a hand up, not a hand-out” in the community and the two men are in a reflective mood as they embark on their most ambitious fundraising season to date.
“Twenty years ago it was enough, maybe, if you were a worthy charity to just go out and say, ‘Hey, we’re a good organization and here’s what we’re doing and look at the guy in the plaid shirt that we’re helping out here,’” Lee tells The Outlook from the offices of Harvest’s North Vancouver headquarters.
“Now it’s a much bigger picture that we’re called on to share with the community,” he continues. “It’s an impact story now, more than I think it was 20 years ago when you just had to tug at the heartstrings.”
In charity as in the business world, any organization must adapt or die. And today Harvest is more focused than ever on proving its positive impact in the community and making its fundraising and fund-spending as open and accountable as possible.
“Most contemporary charities — and we are one of those — are measuring their impact by saying, ‘Why is the place better off because Harvest Project is here?’” Lee explains.
As if Harvest’s work didn’t already speak for itself, Ansell and Lee outline the North Shore-specific programs and outreach initiatives that feed, clothe, counsel and educate hundreds of North Shore families and new immigrants every year.
“We keep poverty at a dull roar,” Ansell explains.
But to keep that up in 2013, Harvest needs money. Two-hundred thousand dollars by mid-January to keep the doors open, programs running and food shelves stocked, they say.
So, just as Lee and Ansell are called upon more and more to prove their utility in dulling poverty’s roar, they’re this year calling on donors to find increasingly creative ways to fundraise — if the old cheque mail-in model of Christmas charity doesn’t necessarily do it for them.
Hans Ruch of North Vancouver has already gone beyond the pale in his effort to think outside the donation box, turning his personal loss into Harvest’s gain.
“I’m not that athletic, so I’m not going to ride a bike to Seattle or something,” the Save-On-Foods employee tells The Outlook. “But what I am is I’m extremely overweight.”
Ruch challenged his friends, colleagues and community members to support his goal of dropping 100 pounds by Nov. 26, all in an effort to raise $10,000. And since his employer Save-On has historically supported Harvest’s food hamper and drop-in grocery program with regular donations, Ruch felt the local charity was a natural fit for his own fundraising.
At the initial July 18 weigh-in, Ruch was 277 pounds. But by Nov. 26, he was just 197 pounds, having lost an astonishing 80 pounds in just over four months, he says.
“It was actually a lot of fun because I made it not about the weight loss but about the fundraising,” he says Monday, noting that he’s still accepting donations until Dec. 31 when he will write a cheque to Harvest. A local personal trainer even donated time to help him drop the pounds.
All told, Ruch raised $4,300 by the Nov. 26 deadline. But having gotten wind of his efforts, executives at Save-On’s parent company Overwaitea Food Group promised to match dollar-for-dollar what he had raised by the November deadline.
That put his total raised at $8,600, just $1,400 shy of his $10,000 goal with two and a half weeks still to go.
Just as how Harvest administers its hand-up in the community has changed over the last two decades, who receives it has changed too, with children and new immigrants making up a larger share of Harvest’s clientele than ever before.
Still, the one constant in this growth industry is need.
“Every year has a different flavour,” Ansell says. “We’re still seeing an increase but it’s where the increase is coming from and who it is that’s the most intriguing.”
Two out of five clients in need this year were newcomers to B.C., including both out-of-country and out-of-province immigrants.
“That’s quite an eye-opener,” Ansell says. “The typical case is people arrive and it just takes time to get traction. And during that time there’s a gap, and so we find that about 40 per cent are recent immigrants.”
“A family will start off pretty well prepared for the move but it takes longer to get established or to get professional certification to be an engineer or whatever,” Lee adds. “And they can’t move back because they don’t have the money, so folks are here. They’re on track but then there’s a gap.”
The remaining 60 per cent of clients are mainly single parents, often with kids in tow, accounting for a growing demographic of youngsters aged one to six that come through Harvest’s doors.
Ansell estimates Harvest sees about 300 North Shore families in its structured programming every month and an additional 80 to 120 single adults for one-off emergency services like food and clothing.
“They’re not the Downtown Eastside profile,” Ansell says. “They are us. They’re our neighbours, literally.”
Anyone wishing to contribute to Ruch’s campaign to help the Harvest Project can do so online before Jan. 1, 2013 at facebook.com/groups/imloosinit. Those wanting to make direct donations to the Harvest Project can do so anytime at harvestproject.org.