By Charlie Senack
Even at a time when people can’t come together in large groups, Cornerstone Housing For Women’s Purple Tie Gala has found a way to adapt during the pandemic and shed light on issues facing vulnerable women.
For a second year in a row, Cornerstone will hold a virtual gala on Saturday, Oct. 2 and raise much-needed funds to support vulnerable women across Ottawa who are either homeless or facing the possibility of homelessness. Cornerstone has four locations in Ottawa, including 42 bachelor apartments located in a former Westboro convent on Princeton Road.
In its third year, the gala has held only one in-person event, and the team hopes to pivot back under one roof for next year. But the 2021 event is going well, with its 200 tickets selling out well ahead of October.
“We have sold out of all our tickets which is super exciting, being that this is the second year where we are gathering virtually,” said Sarah Davis, who took over the role of executive director at Cornerstone in January.
Davis said their team decided to aim for a higher fundraising goal than last year.
“Our goal is to raise about $100,000,” she said. “Last year, during our first virtual event, we raised about $73,000.”
The gala also includes an online silent auction this year, which is new from previous years. Davis said having a virtual platform for the auction has been advantageous.
“We have had the auction open for a few days now, and every couple of days, we are adding more items,” added Davis.
The evening, which gets underway at 7 p.m., will be live-streamed on Cornerstone’s Facebook page and will be broadcast live on Rogers TV. The gala will feature special guests and performances by musicians and poets — all while celebrating Cornerstone’s work over the past year.
Davis said holding the gala virtually has its benefits: Cornerstone has set up a virtual watch party for their clients who live at one of their affordable housing programs on Booth Street. The livestream will give residents and staff an opportunity to take part and celebrate.
The Purple Tie Gala wouldn’t be possible without the support of local businesses. The Westboro Village Business Improvement Area (BIA) is proudly sponsoring the event for a second year in a row and encouraging local businesses to give what they can.
Judy Lincoln, executive director of the Westboro BIA, said the “amazing support” from local businesses to the community has been unwavering.
“Although it’s been a hard and challenging 18 months for a lot of our businesses, they still want to support those who are also struggling,” she said.
Among the businesses involved in this year’s gala is Westboro Italian restaurant Fratelli. The women-led business donated $20 gift certificates to be given to the first 50 people who purchased tickets for the event.
Like many non-profit organizations, Cornerstone has seen an increase in costs since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Last year, they spent an additional $500,000 to cover the bills for extra staff, cleaning equipment and personal protective equipment. They have received much-appreciated funds from the City of Ottawa to help cover the added costs, but it doesn’t cover them all.
That’s why meeting this year’s target goal of $100,000 is more important than ever.
“The funds from our gala goes to support the operations and programs for our women directly — everything from case management support, to food services, to allowing us to ensure that women have the proper resources they need,” said Davis. “We really do make sure that we meet them where they are at.”
Cornerstone started as the city’s first shelter for women 38 years ago and has now grown to deliver supportive housing as well. Many of their clients will be residents for life, getting access to services all in one place, which can be hard to come by.
With the city dealing with an affordable housing crisis, Davis says they do their small part to be part of the solution.
“We have an affordable housing crisis in Ottawa and beyond, and affordable housing is few and far between,” she said. “Our wait list here in the community is anywhere from five to 10 years long. Our programs offer space to women that is affordable, and comes with built-in support.” While the gala is being held at the beginning of October, Cornerstone is keeping their donations page open for most of the month. Anyone who wishes to make a donation can do so on their website at cornerstonewomen.ca.
This story ran in the Giving section of the October 2021 edition of Kitchissippi Times.