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Sunday, March 3, 2024
Community fund aims to grow in NOTL

Organization gave $420,000 to Niagara-on-the-Lake charities in 2020


The Niagara-on-the-Lake Community Fund is celebrating five years since its inception and distributing hundreds of thousands of dollars to NOTL charities.

Michael Berlis, chair of the Niagara-on-the-Lake Community Fund, and Bryan Rose, executive director of the Niagara Community Fund, met with councillors last month to draw attention to the work the fund does and encourage continued support from residents in the region.

“Our aim here today is to remind all of you that this fund exists and to encourage participation, particularly at this difficult time,” Berlis told council.

The organization is structured around a central regional fund which then disperses money raised to the 12 municipalities in Niagara and the Golden Horseshoe, Rose said.

And the fund is looking to continue the success it has had over the last few years.

The regional fund was founded in 2000 “from two $100,000 donations,” Rose said. It now has assets of over $65 million.

“In that first year we deployed just over $9,000 in grants. In 2020, last year alone, we granted over $3 million,” Rose said.

Since its inception, the regional fund has delivered over $18 million to charitable groups in Niagara.

The Niagara-on-the-Lake Community Fund was established in 2016 by then-Lord Mayor Pat Darte to raise awareness of the regional fund.

“Investing in a local community fund allows donors to make a direct impact on the many charities that exist in this community,” Berlis told councillors.

The NOTL fund set a record last year after it donated over $420,000 to town charities as the coronavirus pandemic brought life to a standstill.

Over the last five years, the NOTL fund has given almost $700,000 to local charities, meaning that more than half of all the money it has given away was during the height of the COVID pandemic.

“The first few years were kind of slow. Because we were just getting started, people were learning about it, so it took a few years to kind of ramp up,” Berlis told The Lake Report.

The huge increase in 2020 is, of course, an encouraging sign for Berlis, the fund and the residents of NOTL.

“It shows that the need is there and that people are realizing it, which is a huge part of what we’re trying to do,” he said.

Among the projects supported by the fund were the Niagara-on-the-Lake Palliative Care Service, the Shaw Festival, the Niagara Pumphouse Arts Centre and Niagara College, among others.

The organization's importance has only been amplified by the community struggles being faced due to COVID-19.

“Last year during the pandemic (the regional fund) quickly rallied to support the charitable sector with nearly $300,000 in support to local charities,” Rose said.

This money was divided between the United Way's COVID-19 emergency response fund and a direct donation of $270,000 to Niagara Health, the region's hospital system.

The donation was intended to help “purchase vital new equipment such as ventilators and stretchers and new beds,” Rose said.

The foundation also donated over $1.3 million to Niagara charities through the federal government's Emergency Community Support Fund.

“A total of 66 projects were funded focusing on supporting children, youth, seniors, vulnerable workers and those requiring special care,” Rose said.

He noted that although charitable donations are increasing where those donations are coming from has changed.

“The world of philanthropy is changing here in Canada. There are fewer donors, but those who are giving are giving more,” Rose told councillors.

“What we’ve learned over the years is that people love to give and have an impact in the area where they live. After all, home is where the heart is.”

Coun. Wendy Cheropita is on the committee for the NOTL Community Fund and formerly served as its chair. She encouraged fellow councillors to keep the organization in mind when they consider donating to charities.

“It’s a great organization. It’s not a high-pressure sale, people just come forward when they hear about the organization,” Cheropita said.

“It’s one of those charities where you have the ability as a donor to pick who you donate to or you can donate to the fund and it can be directed to specific sectors.”

With donations of up to $5,000, the fund will use the money wherever it is needed. When a donor gives $10,000 or more, they can choose which sector they would like the money to go to, according to Berlis.

He noted that one of the most important aspects of a community fund is promoting it. The NOTL fund can’t help the community if it doesn’t have the money to do so.

“We’re at the stage where we’re trying to build up the fund and add more names to the list,” Berlis said.

“We’re not pounding on doors. We’re just trying to make sure that people are aware that we exist. It’s amazing how many people are interested once they know about it.”

The fund currently has 35 donors in NOTL. Berlis believes that with such a strong sense of community in town that number will continue to grow.

“There are a lot of people that were born and raised here, but a lot of us came from elsewhere because we wanted to live here and be a part of this community,” Berlis said.

“And if that’s the case then there’s even more of a reason for people to go out and give back.”

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