Pre-pandemic, Catholic Family Services of Toronto held an annual fundraising concert. After COVID hit, this was cancelled, yet people still found ways to give to help the agency continue to help clients. Photo courtesy Catholic Family Services Toronto

Despite tumultuous times, support still flows

By  Wendy-Ann Clarke, Catholic Register Special
  • November 9, 2023

Amid the pandemic hardships of the past few years and a rapidly changing world since, Catholic Family Services (CFS) Toronto has maintained its unwavering support for those in need. Executive director Brenda Spitzer credits much of this resilience to the generous support of donors.

Even throughout the tumultuous times, which have continued post-pandemic with rapid inflation and rising interest rates affecting homeowners, Spitzer is pleased to see that giving from dedicated supporters has continued.

“Donations play a significant role in our funding,” said Spitzer, who has been with CFS for five years. “It’s the result of ordinary people in the community contributing a portion of their income, which is crucial, especially during the pandemic.

“We were advised to prepare for a decline and remain flexible. It was heartening to see people, some facing their own challenges or working frontline jobs, still contributing.”

It’s been a tough few years for CFS and its clients. Through the pandemic, the organization saw a notable increase in violence against women which has been a core area of focus for the agency. With a long and rich history of providing vital support to individuals and families in need, CFS receives government funding for programs surrounding intimate partner violence, but the allocation falls short of covering program expenses. Consequently, fundraising efforts through ShareLife — the charitable fundraising arm of the Archdiocese of Toronto — and distributed through Catholic Charities have become vital to bridge the financial gap.

In the years leading up to the pandemic, to meet its needs, the organization hosted an annual benefit concert and engaged in various fundraising activities. When COVID hit in 2020 those efforts were put on pause. The challenge stemmed not only from the financial aspects but also from the effort and costs associated with fundraising. This placed a considerable strain on the organization and to overcome these hurdles, alternative avenues were explored.

After taking a significant financial dip in 2021, by 2022, CFS successfully organized a virtual fundraiser, revitalizing its funding efforts. Even one-time, albeit smaller donations, are considered highly meaningful and important by the organization, says Spitzer. Most of its supporters, she points out, are everyday individuals experiencing their own hardships. But still they feel compelled to give.

“We have kind of more traditional donors,” she explains. “It could be like the little old lady with the offering plate, or people who tend to write a cheque or make online contributions for events.”

Spitzer emphasizes the importance of estate planning contributions, underscoring that these thoughtful gifts from individuals who don’t have much to give can have a significant and meaningful contribution to the organization’s mission. Those gifts don’t happen often, but when they do, the impact is deeply felt.

“Estate planning is amazing when it happens because you do see that the person who normally is of modest means still gives a thoughtful gift as part of their estate, which is quite amazing,” said Spitzer. “Those gifts make a lot of difference too. It’s that really thoughtful thinking that makes a tremendous difference.”

That difference was especially meaningful during the pandemic. Amid the challenges brought on by COVID-19, many experiencing intimate partner violence found themselves trapped in homes with their abusers. The complexity of their situations was exacerbated as their usual means of escape, such as taking their kids to school, visiting the mall or going to the doctor, were no longer viable options. Nevertheless, organizations like CFS adapted to the circumstances by creatively finding ways to continue programs and support, says Spitzer. The demand for its services skyrocketed, but thanks to the unwavering support of donors, CFS managed to meet this heightened need and never ceased its vital work.

It wasn’t only clients feeling the pressure. Due to the nature of the work of CFS, which involves psychotherapy, counselling and supporting victims of violence against women, the challenges of the pandemic put a significant emotional and psychological strain on the staff. Though stretched thin, the organization managed to retain its staff without having to resort to layoffs during or after the pandemic while maintaining services to the community.

Deeply rooted in its mission to serve those in distress, regardless of their religious or cultural backgrounds, CFS was founded on the principles of compassion and love. In addition to family support and mental health programs, services provided also include addiction and recovery assistance.

By strengthening the mental health and social fabric of the community, CFS contributes to a more resilient society. Through the support of donors, it has been able to expand its reach, affecting not only the lives of the clients CFS serves but also the communities these clients are a part of.

Within the Catholic community, a spirit of generosity continues to prevail, says Spitzer, and this philanthropic proclivity benefits charities aligned within the Catholic network. There is a distinct ease that accompanies this partnership, attributed to the shared commitment to a fundamental Catholic value to uplift every community member.

“I feel very fortunate in this kind of context because those values are kind of woven into the fabric of Catholic institutions,” she said.

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