B.C. charities face increasing demand, erosion of funds in wake of COVID-19

Ronald McDonald House and BC Place are two organizations dealing with the fallout from the pandemic.

Credit: Courtesy of Ronald McDonald House

Ronald McDonald House has seen some tough times of late

Ronald McDonald House and Canuck Place are two organizations dealing with the fallout from the pandemic

Richard Pass likes to say that “serious illness doesn’t care that there’s a pandemic.”

What was already a sometimes difficult job as chief executive of nonprofit Ronald McDonald House BC and Yukon has gotten much tougher.

The organization, which relies on donations through events and fundraisers to house and care for 73 families with seriously ill children while they’re being treated at BC Children’s Hospital, has seen an evaporation of income during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pass and company came up with a four-stage strategy in the early days of the virus that resulted in limited staff and a reduction in the number of families. He says the house is currently between stages two and three, with 42 families under care.

“Families quarantine when they come in, everyone in the house wears a mask, we have temperature checks, all those things,” Pass explains, adding that cleaning protocols have gotten more stringent.

But Ronald McDonald House, which he calls a “volunteer-based organization,” relies on events. Some, like golf tournaments and galas, it runs itself, while fellow groups organize others on its behalf.

“We’re probably down in the range of $1 million to $1.3 million shy of funds that normally would come in from the events and the activities that we do,” Pass says. “So we’re trying to pivot and create new opportunities for people to be connected with in a donation sort of a way, and it’s challenging, no question.”

Vancouver-based Canuck Place Children’s Hospice is dealing with similar challenges. The 190-employee organization (which also sees somewhere in the range of 400 volunteers at any given time) provides pediatric palliative care to children and families in B.C. So far, no staff have been laid off, though the outfit hasn’t been using volunteers during the pandemic.

“Many of our events have been cancelled and reformatted in ways that mean that we haven’t been able to raise funds at the same level that are required for us to deliver the needed medical and nursing and counselling care for the kids and families,” says Canuck Place CEO Margaret McNeil.

That includes its two main events, large galas in Vancouver and Abbotsford, where its second hospice is located. A virtual gala was held this past weekend, but McNeil, who talked to BCBusiness before it took place, wasn’t overly optimistic. “We won’t raise the same funds that we normally raise through a gala where we could put 800 people in a room in Vancouver.”

Over the past few years, Canuck Place had seen growth in the number of children it serves, with a 21-percent increase in bed occupancies in 2019 bringing the total to about 880 kids and their families.

“We really do need public support at this time; it’s absolutely critical,” McNeil stresses. Canuck Place has been able to take advantage of federal wage subsidy programs, but as she notes, they “doesn’t close the gap between what we need and what our donations are this year. So we’re really looking for public support to assist us to whatever extent they can, to provide this family-centric care for these incredible and vulnerable children and their families.”

Likewise, Ronald McDonald House is trying out new ways of generating donations—a virtual gala on October 15 will feature music, entertainment, an online auction and prizes. But CEO Pass knows that dreams of pre-pandemic levels of support are exactly that.

“Getting that message out and having people participate is challenging because people are pretty much Zoomed out, so keeping the program upbeat and short and trying to have people participate and finding unique ways to do that and engage people in the province that are wanting to support is a key thing,” he says.

“The sick kids are still sick—we need to find a way to continue to support these incredible families, and any kind of donation and support and going online to make a gift to help the families or to participate in things like the virtual events would be outstanding.”