Centraide: How McGill community makes a difference

From left to right: Anne Farray (Centraide McGill outgoing Co-Chair), Don McLean (Co-Chair, Academic Staff), Mary-Beth Campbell (Campaign Co-ordinator) and Joanne Niles (Co-Chair, Support Staff) at Centraide's March of 1,000 Umbrellas on Oct. 7.

By Neale McDevitt

You step over the outstretched legs of the same homeless man every day, muttering under your breath about the smell, the eyesore and the inconvenience. You turn away from the guy in the wheelchair selling pens at the Métro, or the old lady begging for quarters, or the teenage prostitute shivering in the doorway, because eye contact makes it harder to forget they are there, they exist.

But they do exist. Each year in Montreal, hundreds of thousands of people require some sort of assistance – be it a hot meal, winter boots, counselling, shelter from the weather or a safe haven from violence. The need is so pressing that here in one of the world’s great cities, many people go without life’s most basic necessities.

“Sometimes I think people are overwhelmed with requests for donations,” said Anne Farray, out-going Co-Chair of the McGill Centraide Campaign. “They say to themselves ‘What good can my few pennies do?’ But the truth is, when added up, those pennies can change a person’s life.”

A quick visit to the McGill Centraide Campaign site (www.mcgill.ca/centraide/) illustrates exactly how little money is needed to have a huge effect. McGill employees who pledge a mere $8 per pay will help buy clothing and food for refugee families. Donating $10 per pay ensures a local soup kitchen can serve 260 nutritious hot meals to needy families, seniors, and isolated individuals. Fifteen dollars a pay enables counsellors to work with neighbourhood youth in order to combat violence and delinquency. It’s not often a person can make a real difference just by giving up their monthly pizza.

Last year, the McGill community effort (current and retired staff and students) raised $317,000 for Centraide of Greater Montreal – a non-profit organization that supports more than 350 local agencies and projects designed to improve the quality of life in the community, especially among its most needy members.

Although the average dollar donation per McGill donor was higher than any other Montreal-based school, the University’s participation rate – a mere six per cent in 2007 – lags behind. “We have fewer donors than other schools,” Farray said. “But, on average, they make larger donations.”  The 2008 Committee is working hard to increase that rate.

The McGill campaign, which is also led by Joanne Niles, Co-Chair, Support Staff, and Dean Don McLean, Co-Chair, Academic Staff, was launched on Oct. 7 and will run until the end of February. Although this year’s target of $295,000 is lower than last year’s final tally, Farray says experience has proven it is always prudent to be conservative. “There are so many factors that affect this type of campaign,” she said, “and this year one of the factors may be the state of the economy. But we’ve increased our total in each of the past three years,” Farray said, “and we’re going to do our best to keep raising the bar.”

While the bottom line is a crucial factor in any Centraide campaign, Farray has learned that focusing too much on the numbers deflects attention from the real raison d’être of all this effort – the people. “We organized a cinq-à-sept last year and not very many people showed up,” she said. “I was disappointed at first until a man got up to tell his story.

“He told us how troubled he had been as a teen and how he had tried to commit suicide several times. And he told us of the counselling and feeling of empowerment he had received from an organization funded in large part by Centraide, counselling that had given him the strength to come and share his story.

“Right there I realized that success should not be judged by numbers. Instead, we should measure our success on the fact that we helped one person find that strength.”

Making an automatic donation from your paycheque is both easy and painless. You can register online at www.mcgill.ca/centraide/ in less time than it has taken to read this article.