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Kitsilano kids centre weathers recession

Eight-month-old Gaïa De Jong chewed on a foam toy happily. Nearby, toddlers screamed and laughed as they played with plastic…

By Lewis Kelly , in Business , on October 29, 2009

Gaïa De Jong inspects the foam toys at the drop-in service.
Gaïa De Jong inspects the foam toys at the drop-in service.

Eight-month-old Gaïa De Jong chewed on a foam toy happily. Nearby, toddlers screamed and laughed as they played with plastic trains, Lego, and Play-Doh in the basement of the West Side Family Place.

“I think it’s mostly for the other children that I came here, so that Gaïa can be surrounded by kids,” said Gaïa’s mother Kimberly. “And chew on the toys.”

It was a typical Wednesday for the “Play and Learn” drop-in service the Family Place offers. About 70 parents brought their children to the house to play and socialize.

Yet despite its busy afternoon drop-in service and recent successful fundraising efforts, the West Side Family Place might have to cut back the hours of some programs if donations continue to fall.

David Richardson, a Kitsilano real estate agent makes a substantial annual donation, said it was difficult this year.

“But it’s probably one of the best causes in town,” he added. “Everything starts with the kids, right?”

Executive Director Diane Ash said that around two-thirds of the Family Place’s annual budget is covered by grants from government bodies like the Ministry of Child and Family Development and the City of Vancouver. The remainder is made up of grants from non-government organizations like United Way, donations, and fundraising efforts like an annual auction.

“It’s not enough funds to keep our doors open as much as we are open, so we always do fundraising,” she said.

It’s this fundraising that is becoming increasingly difficult in a climate of shrinking GDP and declining investment.

The auction attracted drew more than 100 people to St. James Hall this year, and featured both live and silent bidding on items like salon makeovers and guided tours of Whistler. Attendees sipped Jackson Triggs wine and Red Truck lager while local quartet Jazz Con Brio worked their way through a smooth, mellow set on stage.

Before the live bidding began, auctioneer Ian Hanomansing exhorted the crowd to bid high and bid often.

“Don’t hold back,” he said from the stage. “It’s not about getting a bargain.”

They took him at his word – the auction raised about $20,000, more than $7,000 more than last year’s event. One pair of Canucks tickets valued at $240 went for $420 after crowd-pleasing bidding duel.

Donations declining

CBC newscaster Ian Hanomansing hosted the live auction at the fundraiser.
CBC newscaster Ian Hanomansing hosted the live auction at the fundraiser.

But some of the Family Place’s fundraising efforts have been less successful. Ash said that she’s noticed a decrease in the amount of donations given to the Family Place.

“Most of our donations, usually, are small amounts – $10, $30, maybe $100,” she said. “And those donations are down.”

The Family Place also charges parents who use its services a small fee to cover operating costs. For the drop-in service, it’s two dollars, though the Family Place will subsidize anyone who can’t afford it.

Ash said that recently the number of parents asking for the subsidy has increased by about 50 per cent.

Andrea Kramer and her son Mattias visit every week. Kramer said she has started to notice more people at the drop-in that there are Toonies in the drop-box.

If financial pressures continue to mount, the Family Place will have to consider cutting back the hours of its drop-in program.

“Probably the drop-in would be the first to be decreased, the number of hours that are open for the general public,” said Program Coordinator Patricia Brown.

But many of the parents at the drop-in were quick to praise the program’s schedule, particularly its afternoon hours.

“This is the one and only time that we do come a week, every Wednesday afternoon,” said Kramer.

Sascha Vandy drives to the Family Place from South Vancouver with her son Aidan because the drop-in is offered in the afternoon.

“There’s not many places that have hours at this time,” she said.

“Absolutely I have contingency plans,” said Ash. “I don’t think I’d be a good executive director if I didn’t have contingency plans.”

However, she also said that she is quite optimistic about the Family Place’s future.

“Realistically, I’m not worried about Family Place disappearing.”