For the Elks Lodge in downtown Vernon, it will mean their doors can stay open and someday resume the meat draws, Friday night suppers, catering, and hall rentals that let them help children access hearing aids, play sports, and attain bursaries.
For the Vernon branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), it means the Georgette Shop can welcome volunteers and customers alike so the thrift store can support youth programs, a meal program, and the crisis line.
Both local social enterprises can carry on their important community work thanks to the Regional Relief and Recovery Fund (RRRF), accessed through Community Futures North Okanagan (CFNO).
“This is a recovery loan that’s filling a big gap in our community because these organizations would have had to make some tough decisions otherwise, and the ripple effect could have been far-reaching,” said Scot McNair, CFNO loans coordinator.
Unlike the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA), the RRRF is available to social enterprises and businesses that are not incorporated or have no payroll. Both programs provide funding up to $40,000, and, until December 2022, no interest and 25 per cent is forgivable if 75 per cent is paid.
Heading into the spring, the hall at the Elks Lodge was booked every weekend except one until September. But as COVID-19 hit and forced people to cancel anniversaries and weddings, and the team was forced to cancel Friday night suppers, the outlook for the Lodge was bleak.
Maureen Sather, secretary-treasurer and member of the catering team, said after trying to navigate funding options and coming away empty-handed, she was relieved the Elks was able to apply for the RRRF.
“I had no idea what we were going to do. We could have only carried on for a few months. It would have been a shame to have to close our doors,” said Sather, adding many other Lodges in Canada have had to do just that. “Scot was wonderful to work with, and it’s made all the difference. We feel so blessed.”
Funds raised throughout the year allow the Elks to give more than $35,000 back to the community every year in the form of bursaries, sponsoring sports groups, and helping children access hearing aids. The popular Friday night dinners are a valuable source of connection for many seniors.
A few blocks away, the Georgette Shop, below the Vernon branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association, also faced several weeks of unknowns as the thrift store—a major source of revenue—was closed.
“We closed quickly because we knew it would be too vulnerable for our customers and our team. We have so much care between people, and that’s also what has made reopening so fantastic,” said Julia Payson, executive director, Vernon CMHA.
Thanks to the loan through the RRRF, the Georgette Shop was able to cover important revenue lost during those months and earmarked to fund critical programs such as the meals, crisis line, and youth programs.
“Closing the store didn’t just have an impact on our clients, staff, and volunteers here. It also meant the loss of a funding stream for our programs.”
And yet while the Georgette Shop was closed and not bringing in revenue, CMHA’s programming was in great demand: The ‘cook together, enjoy together’ meal program went from serving 30 people a day twice a week to a takeout model that served nearly 150 people each meal. For the crisis line, “May was the busiest month we’ve ever had.”
The RRRF funding will also help the Georgette Shop focus on new ways to get more eyes on both its modern and vintage fashions by going online.
Along with the RRRF, CFNO continues to offer valuable resources and supports to help small businesses move forward during these uncertain times.