From left: Rebecca Smith, Surrey Hospice Society executive director; Donna Chubb, thrift store manager; and Dylan Van Rooyen, Surrey Fire Fighters Charitable Society board director. The thrift store, which has been closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, if a partnership between the two societies. (Photo: Lauren Collins)

Surrey Fire Fighters Charitable Society looking at up to $250K-donation shortfall amid COVID-19

The organization usually donates about $1M to different initiatives each year

As the COVID-19 pandemic goes on, the Surrey Fire Fighters Charitable Society is having to look at alternative ways to raise funds.

“Our worst-case budget shows a decrease in funds raised by $250,000, which is 25 per cent,” said charitable society board director Dylan Van Rooyen.

“The reason being, we are very event-based, we don’t have any paid fundraisers on our team. Our strength is hosting an event that people want to come to where we can get them to part with the money and then donate it to a good cause.”

On a yearly basis, Van Rooyen said, the society donates about $1 million back into the community.

READ ALSO: Surrey firefighters reach $1-million milestone in giving, Dec. 14, 2018

In total, that’s about 50 groups and 86 initiatives that benefit from the society.

“Unfortunately, we decided to postpone (the Ignite A Dream event), which now it’s looking like postponing is turning into cancelling. That was the first event that was cancelled, and from there, it’s kind of been a trickle-down effect where we’ve had to postpone our golf tournament, we’ve had to make the decision to cancel our mayor’s gala. In March, we had to shut down our thrift store.”

The thrift store is a partnership between the SFFCS and the Surrey Hospice Society, which Van Rooyen said brings in about $100,000 for each organization.

Van Rooyen said there was “definitely a nervousness” among the members when they realized how COVID-19 would impact their fundraising efforts for this year.

“We started looking at the budget and looking at all the different groups that count on us, and it was just this stress, a little fear. We know we want to still be there for everybody but how are we going to do this?”

As a board, Van Rooyen said they did talk about the donation shortfall and what they could do to prevent or ease it.

“We’ve actually had a bunch of our members step up and say, ‘Typically, I contribute X amount of dollars a year. I’d like to increase that for this year,’” he said.

“We’ve got members coming forward and everyone kind of banding together as a team and we can’t decrease the amount of support that we give. We need to figure out how we maintain it… We don’t know exactly what that looks like because it’s hard to know how long the pandemic’s going to last and how long we need to, really, re-focus our fundraising initiatives.”

This year, the SFFCS partnered with Surrey Honda, which donated a 2020 Honda CRV, for a raffle to potentially raise $100,000 through $20-tickets.

READ ALSO: Surrey firefighters society donates to youth mental health program, with help of vehicle raffle, May 8, 2020

The raffle wasn’t planned because of COVID-19 and the society’s cancelled events.

As of mid-May, Van Rooyen said tickets were between “90 and 95 per cent” sold, with the draw on planned for July 1.

Tickets for the raffle can be purchased online at surreyhonda.com/raffle-honda.

Looking at the long-term, he said the society will probably keep some of these new ideas.

“The raffle and the online initiatives seem to be a great way to generate some money,” he noted. So in the long run, we would like to bring those event back, but also maybe retain some of the new initiates and. Maybe for this year, our funds decrease a little bit but years to come, maybe with the new initiatives added in there, we can actually increase the funds raised and the support.”

Asked if the society has ever seen a budget shortfall like this, Van Rooyen said not in his nine years on the job.

“Every year, of those nine years, we’ve seen an increase and we slowly get better and better and our events get a little bit bigger from more sponsors. The community really had recognized what we do… We’ve had a bit of a re-focus, but never to the point where we’re looking at a 25-per-cent reduction.”

As for the thrift store, Van Rooyen said he’s hopeful they’ll be able to open up again by the end of May.

Thrift store manager Donna Chubb said she and the societies and volunteers are in the process of “drawing up a plan” that would “work for everybody, but also bring that income back.”

“Donations are a big thing because there’s not a lot out there for information on how to handle donations… so I’ve asked other thrift stores what they’re doing, so i’m just putting together a plan that’s going to include some of that stuff, with a 24- to 48-hour quarantine on clothing donations, wiping down all hard goods.”

Chubb added that staff would be “constantly” wiping down the store, there would be hand sanitizer at the door, there could be a limited number of customers coming in and arrows directing people.

Surrey Hospice Society executive director Rebecca Smith said the temporary closure of the thrift store had a “huge” impact on the organization.

“Financially speaking, we’re poised to be OK for a while as long as we can still get donations into our bins and as long as that revenue source is coming, we can hold on… But I don’t know how long. I’m happy to see the roll out and the reopen plan,” said Smith, adding that they have to be careful with the re-opening plan because of the older demographic shopping and working at the store.

Meantime, people can donate to the Surrey Fire Fighters Charitable Society through its website, surreyfirefighters.com/charitablesociety.



lauren.collins@surreynowleader.com

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