What little kid doesn’t get excited over the first big snowfall of the season?
A little kid who doesn’t have a proper snowsuit, that’s who.
That’s where the Snowsuit Fund comes in. It’s a cherished little charity here in Ottawa that makes sure every child in our region has access to the necessary outdoor winter wear so that they can make snow angels, go sledding, get their tongue stuck to icy metal fences if they're not careful, all while living in one of the coldest capital cities in the world.
“We want kids not only to survive but to thrive,” Trina Fraser, volunteer board chair of the Snowsuit Fund, told OBJ.social. “We want them to go outside and play, to want to go outside and play.”
Each year, the Snowsuit Fund provides more than 16,000 snowsuits to babies and children up to the age of 15. It relies solely on donations from individuals, groups and businesses in order to serve low-income families in the region.
The Snowsuit Fund stretches it dollars further, getting the best quality snowsuits at the best possible prices. It buys in bulk, on a repeat basis and offseason, said Fraser, a partner and leading cannabis lawyer with Ottawa law firm Brazeau Seller.
Normally this time of year, the charity holds its annual Snowsuit Fund Gala, a popular night out that features dinner, dancing and major fundraising. Due to COVID-19 restrictions on large social gatherings, organizers are instead packaging all the gala highlights and delivering them to people's front doors.
“We’ve really been trying to put together a package that is really fun and exciting for people, something to look forward to,” explained Fraser. “We’re all kind of stuck at home in this rut, doing the same thing, kind of day in and day out.”
Karen Wood and her team from Knock on Wood Communications + Events have worked hard on developing a creative concept, said Fraser.
“She has really done an amazing job at trying to think outside the box for our Gala-In-a-Box.”
The fundraiser is co-chaired by Snowsuit Fund board vice-chair Danny Kingsbury, retired vice-president and general manager with Rogers Media, and Lise Clément, principal at Lansdowne Technologies. Her company has ordered a dozen Gala-In-A-Box packages as a way of celebrating the festive season. With the extra money they're saving on their holiday party budget this year, they can afford to splurge on the Snowsuit Fund's online auction.
A $300 package includes a four-course gourmet meal for two, featuring braised beef short ribs. It's being prepared by renowned fine-dining restaurant Beckta, which has the whole dinner-party-at-home-thing mastered. When the coronavirus first hit and shutdown indoor dining, owner Stephen Beckta, of the Beckta, Play and Gezellig restaurants, was quick to provide Curated by Beckta food and wine packages, charcuterie platters and artisanal cheese platters for curbside pickup or delivery.
Orders for the Gala-in-a-Box Edition have been going so well that organizers are increasing their original limit of 150 boxes/300 meals.
"Who doesn't want a gourmet meal from Beckta?" asked Fraser, rhetorically.
“The Snowsuit Fund is something I feel very passionate about,” said Fraser, a mother of two. “I encourage everybody – people in my neighbourhood, people in my office – please, just go to the depot once and volunteer.”
That’s how she first discovered the charity. She and a bunch of her colleagues from Brazeau Seller decided to lend a hand at Snowsuit Fund headquarters in Vanier, as a team-building activity. They helped families find the appropriate snowsuits amidst the wide selection of sizes, colours and styles.
Fraser was so touched by the experience – of feeling the gratitude from the parents and seeing the proud smiles on the kids’ faces as they tried on their outerwear – that she told general manager Joanne Andrews to contact her, should they ever need her help. They did, and Fraser grew attached to the charity, like a mitten to a string. She eventually joined the board.
“Every child in Ottawa should have a warm, well-fitting snowsuit; that’s a basic human need,” said Fraser, who’s heard stories from teachers about young kids coming to school with outwear that’s worn out, ill-fitting or inadequate.
Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic has meant the Snowsuit Fund has temporarily suspended group volunteering. It’s also asking clients to book appointments ahead of time to keep the warehouse from getting crowded.
Former Snowsuit Fund client Sherrilynne Starkie is a successful digital communications specialist in Ottawa and the regional chair of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC). She’s worked in the U.S. and UK, both for big agencies and on her own. She formerly rose to the top to become president of Thornley Fallis Communications.
There was a time in her life, some 30 years ago, when she was a young, newly single mother of two babies, with not much support. To create a brighter future for herself and her kids, she decided to go back to school to study public relations at Algonquin College. Her kids’ daycare told her about the Snowsuit Fund and suggested she check the place out. “Money was tight at the time,” she told OBJ.social.
Starkie didn’t know what to expect when she headed to the facility at 225 Donald St.
“I was nervous because I had never been in a position where I was accepting help from others in that way but, when I got there, everyone was so nice. It was just like shopping at Zellers, and they helped me find snowsuits for both kids, and boots, hats, mittens – the whole thing – and I came away from the experience feeling really good about it.
“Sometimes, you just need a little help. There’s no shame in that and, you know, they were there to help me at a time when I was kind of on my back foot.”
Once Starkie graduated with her college diploma, she got a job right away and “never really looked back.” She soon remarried and now has grandchildren the same age her own children were when she visited the Snowsuit Fund that one year.
“I love to see children happy. The Snowsuit Fund helped make our family a little bit happier at a time when things were not great.”