Shoppers encouraged to ‘pay it forward’ this holiday season

By Jared Davidson – 

At a time of year so often dominated by tales of extreme consumerism, a coalition of Wellington West businesses are shifting the focus from shopping to giving. On November 24, a day observed in the U.S as Black Friday, these businesses are asking their community to show compassion to those who need it. Instead of gate-crashing sales, the eight participating Wellington West businesses are offering an opportunity to improve the lives of women in need.

Kitchissippi shoppers are encouraged to give back to the community with a “Pay it Forward” campaign. Grab a tote bag, fill it for women in need, and drop it off at a participating retailer in exchange for a special gift.  Photo by Ellen Bond
Kitchissippi shoppers are encouraged to give back to the community with a “Pay it Forward” campaign. Grab a tote bag, fill it for women in need, and drop it off at a participating retailer in exchange for a special gift.  Photo by Ellen Bond

The owners of Viens Avec Moi, Twiss and Weber, Bloomfields Flowers, Muriel Dombret [Clothes], Victoire, Kindred, JV Studios, and Flock have teamed up for an initiative they’re calling Pay It Forward to bring awareness to the needs of homeless women in Ottawa. The event – planned in partnership with Cornerstone Housing for Women and Caldwell Family Centre – invites the community to fill a tote bag with items for women in need.

“We feel like it’s important to help women in need,” says Laura Twiss, co-owner of Twiss and Weber. “If we help women, we help our community to be stronger.”

The tote bags will be available on November 24 at any of the eight businesses or the Wellington West BIA office (1285 Wellington St. W.). Those who pick up the bags will have until December 2 to fill and return them to one of the participating businesses in exchange for a gift. Each business’s gift will be unique.

Every tote bag will then be given to a woman receiving services from Cornerstone or Caldwell. The contents is up to those who donate, but Connie Franklin, resource development manager at Cornerstone, says there are a number of much-needed items, especially during this time of year. Items like pajamas, slippers and undergarments are needed, as are items that women without disposable income rarely purchase for themselves, things like chocolate, candles, makeup, and gift certificates.

“Everyone appreciates something of a treat,” says Connie, stressing that it is often the thought that is put into the donations that matters most. “These are women that have experienced a lot of abuse and trauma in their lives, and they haven’t known a lot of kindness.”

Pay It Forward seeks to cultivate that kindness and draw attention to the need for more of it in the city. Connie points out that approximately 1,000 women each year are homeless in Ottawa, and though Cornerstone is able to help up to five hundred of those women, there is still a great need for housing. To help fill that need, Cornerstone is currently renovating their new permanent housing location at the old Jeanne D’arc Institute on Princeton Avenue in Westboro.

“I must say the neighbourhood has been very welcoming,” says Connie. “Ottawa is a very generous community.”

The eight businesses participating in Pay It Forward want to facilitate that spirit of welcoming. The coalition of businesses is made up of owners who share a strong community spirit, one built out of a shared location of Wellington West, but also out of bonds of friendship: they meet for coffee regularly and many of the owners have worked together previously. These businesses are working together, Laura Twiss says, because they understand the power of collaboration.

“We all have a lot going on in our lives,” says Laura. “We know that if we can share initiatives like this, we can accomplish them much easier.”

Laura hopes that Pay It Forward will rally the community around extending kindness to homeless women in Ottawa in a personal way. Each bag will be given to one woman, and though those who donate and those who receive may never meet, Laura sees meaningfulness in knowing that the contribution is going to someone in need. She visualizes one woman feeling that kindness.

“I hope that it can inspire hope for her,” she says. “I hope that it can give her a bit more strength.”


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