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Whistler charities wrap up another year of giving back

With holiday fundraising campaigns underway, demand for Whistler non-profits’ services—from the food bank to WAG and everything in between—remains strong heading into 2023
Winnie is one of the more than 100 animals who came through Whistler Animals Galore’s doors in 2022.

When the COVID-19 pandemic turned life upside down almost three years ago, it was, in large part, local charities like the Whistler Community Services Society (WCSS) that helped keep many members of Whistler’s community afloat in one way or another.

But as restrictions gradually eased, borders and offices reopened, and life returned to some semblance of normal across the resort in 2022, the need for those organizations and their services didn’t slow down.

In some cases, like at the Whistler Food Bank, demand has gone up instead.

Visitor numbers—and operating costs—were up throughout the past 12 months, explained WCSS executive director Jackie Dickinson, but peaked in October 2022 when the food bank welcomed 1,400 visitors. It marked the busiest month in the Whistler Food Bank’s three-decade history. Pre-pandemic, volunteers served about 200 to 250 food bank visitors per month, on average. 

Rather than the illnesses and injuries that used to initiate the majority of food bank visits, most visitors are now citing the high cost of housing.

Historically, November was the Food Bank’s busiest month. The fact that October took over this year suggests that seasonal workers are coming to the resort earlier in the year in order to secure safe, legitimate housing before the winter season, Dickinson said.

The food bank is just one of more than 30 different programs operated by WCSS.

WAG welcome 100 animals into its care in 2022 

Like the food bank, Whistler’s not-for-profit animal shelter, Whistler Animals Galore (WAG), is seeing demand for its services rise post-pandemic, but that demand isn’t coming from people looking to welcome a new pet into their home.

“I think similar to shelters around the world, WAG has been inundated with more animals, and definitely a slower adoption rate than we’ve seen before, so animals are spending longer in the shelter,” said Kendall Benbow, WAG’s marketing, events and fundraising coordinator. “We just had an influx of animals, and we have a waitlist of animals trying to come in as well.”

Winnie, for example, is a healthy, approximately one-year-old pitbull mix who has not received a single application since she arrived at the shelter four months ago. Those circumstances stand in stark contrast to 2020, when shelters across B.C. were emptied by families who suddenly had more time on their hands to care for an animal.

Though WAG is limited in space, the shelter serves a wide range of communities from Whistler all the way to Lillooet, Benbow explained.

“More than 100 animals came through our door this year that needed help, and about 30 of those were critical care cases,” she said. Critical care cases can be emergent or non-emergent, and are defined as animals requiring any treatment above and beyond WAG’s standard spay and neuter surgeries, vaccines and de-wormers.

“We have some very generous donors, and we’re very supported by the community, which we’re so grateful for,” said Benbow, but with inflation affecting everything from pet food to vet bills, “even though we might be on par with fundraising and donations, our expenses are higher than a normal year.”

100 Women Whistler donates $46K to community groups in 2022 

Several of those generous WAG donors belong to 100 Women Whistler. The shelter is one of four community organizations that received funding from the group this year.

The premise of the 100 Women Whistler chapter is simple: 100 (or in this case, more) women gather quarterly to listen to three nominated Sea to Sky-based non-profits each deliver a five-minute presentation. All 100 Women Whistler members in attendance vote to select the winning nominee, and hand that group $100 per member.

WAG received a $12,000 contribution for its critical and compassionate care fund during 100 Women Whistler’s third meeting of 2022, held on Sept. 28.

Other recipients this year included the Whistler Museum and Archives Society, which took home $10,300 on Feb. 23 for an oral history project; the Whistler Children’s Chorus, which was awarded $11,000 on April 27 to stage its “Christmas at Rainbow Lodge” musical; and Pemberton District Search and Rescue, which received $12,400 for member intake and protective equipment on Nov. 23.

The group’s next meeting, which is always preceded by a registration and beverage reception, is scheduled to take place at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler on Feb. 22.

The community collective has raised $181,100 for local initiatives since it launched in May 2019.

Whistler Community Foundation seeking donors to help double its 2023 Community Fund 

From WCSS to The Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment (AWARE) to the Sea to Sky Invasive Species Council and numerous other arts, culture and recreation groups, a large number of valuable community programs have once again been made possible by investments from the Whistler Community Foundation (WCF) this year.

In 2022, WCF provided $411,364 to Whistler and Pemberton charities through 88 grants and scholarships.

In addition to compiling the annual Vital Signs report (that local data is currently being finalized and is set to be released early in the new year, executive director Claire Mozes explained in an email, and will also be shared with charities ahead of the 2023 grant application process), the foundation acts as a steward of money gifted to the community, and hands those funds out through grants. The money granted each spring comes from the proceeds of previously endowed WCF funds, which have continued to grow in the years since the organization was established in 1999.

Still, the WCF’s Caring Community Grants Committee receives more requests each year than its funds can support.

With that in mind, the WCF is seeking to double its Community Fund this holiday season. The Community Fund features the most flexible granting model of the WCF’s nearly 40 distinct funds, and is due to grant $8,000 to local non-profits in 2023. If the foundation meets its goal, that means the fund would instead grant $16,000 next year. (Any donations that surpass that goal will be used to help build WCF’s Community Fund endowment for future years.)

“This will double the amount awarded to charities whose projects focus on making a significant difference in improving the quality of life for community members in the areas of arts and culture, education, environment, health and social services,” Mozes explained. “When the Community Fund was created by board members in 2002, they wanted the granting parameters to remain flexible. WCF trusts that charities know best what they need to support community members, and by building the Community Fund, we are able to give more support where it is most needed.”

The foundation is also celebrating a successful “Shop Local Give Local” campaign that took place over a one-day period earlier this month. This year, the campaign saw 14 businesses pledge to give five per cent of their sales to the Community Fund.

Though the final total is still being tallied, “Charities in Whistler will receive more funding due to their participation and those who chose to shop on that day,” Mozes explained. “By chance, while I was shopping that day, I ran into an annual donor in Whistler Kitchen Works who shared she was making an effort to get to as many participating businesses as possible. And so a big thank you must also go out to the community members who made visiting the 14 businesses a priority.”

Other ways to give back this holiday season

If you missed “Shop Local Give Local” day, don’t stress: there are still plenty of ways to contribute to Whistler community initiatives before the calendar flips to 2023.

Though cash donations can typically be stretched further than food donations, Dickinson reminds anyone looking to contribute non-perishable items to check expiration dates and ensure no cans are dented. Among the most-needed items on food bank shelves this winter are canned fruit and veggies, rice, pasta and pasta sauces, cereal, crackers, kids snacks, coffee and tea, milk substitutes, re-usable bags, and hygiene products like toothbrushes, deodorant, shaving supplies, diapers and pull-ups.

Instant meals that don’t require a can opener or stovetop to prepare are also extra-appreciated, Dickinson added.

The last food bank day before the holidays is set for Friday, Dec. 23.

Though the holidays are always a popular time to give, the food bank is especially treasuring those donations this month after seeing contributions drop off earlier this year.

“The previous year, we saw a lot of charitable giving from about April to June 2021. We were putting out specific requests and campaigns around the awareness of mental health, and we generated a lot of needed funds to support our outreach services and emotional health services. This spring, we didn’t see that same level of support,” Dickinson explained.

“But the really good news is that has returned … from about October, hopefully all the way up until Dec. 31,” she said. “Like most charitable organizations, we’re really hoping those donations do come our way.”

Zero Ceiling is also marking a milestone birthday with a fundraising campaign this year. The non-profit—which serves youth and young adults facing homelessness in the Sea to Sky and Metro Vancouver by creating supportive, stable, and safe environments through its Work 2 Live program and Adventure Sessions—is striving to raise $250,000 before the end of the year to mark 25 years of operations.

“Thanks to our incredibly generous community, we’ve already raised $150,000 during our 25th Birthday celebrations. Now, we need to raise $100,000 before December 31 to meet our goal,” the organization explained in a Nov. 29 post.

The charities mentioned are just a few of the many organizations that comprise Whistler’s dedicated and impactful non-profit landscape. If time is what you’re looking to donate in 2023, the Whistler Community Foundation has a list of volunteer opportunities available across a range of sectors at