Grants help continue Saskatchewan ‘acts of kindness’ during coronavirus pandemic

Click to play video: 'Grants awarded to continue Saskatchewan acts of kindness started during coronavirus pandemic'
Grants awarded to continue Saskatchewan acts of kindness started during coronavirus pandemic
WATCH: A campaign to reward Saskatchewan acts of kindess during the COVID-19 pandemic has reached its half-way mark. Daniella Ponticelli speaks to those who are spreading kindness in the province – Jul 23, 2020

Nominations continue to pour in for Saskatchewan people and businesses that responded to the coronavirus pandemic in extraordinary and ordinary ways.

Since June 10, Conexus Credit Union has been accepting public nominations for its Kindness Capital Fund, which will award 40 grants of $5,000 cash.

“We had no idea the power and the number of stories we were going to hear from all across Saskatchewan,” said Eric Dillion, CEO of Conexus Credit Union.

Dillion noted that nominations are being scored in real-time to give immediate cash flow to continue these acts of kindness until the fund is distributed.

Nominees must be 18 or older, reside or operate a business in Saskatchewan, and have started their act of kindness around or after March 13.

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Now at the halfway point, Conexus has awarded $100,000 to 20 different initiatives from Regina, Harris, Green Lake, Saskatoon, Indian Head, Martensville, Prince Albert, Brownlee, Meadow Lake, La Ronge, and Montmartre.

More than 160 nominations have come in so far, and recipients cannot be self-nominated.

The Reverse School Bus program, which helped kids who typically rely on school lunch programs continue to receive meals, was awarded a $5,000 grant through the Conexus Credit Union Kindness Capital Fund.
The Reverse School Bus program, which helped kids who typically rely on school lunch programs continue to receive meals, was awarded a $5,000 grant through the Conexus Credit Union Kindness Capital Fund. I Am: H.E.R. / Instagram

Among the first recipients of the fund was Sask Masks, an initiative created by four University of Regina business students at the start of the pandemic to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“Regina has, right from the start, supported us and followed us on our mission, as well as helped us with donations of fabrics and we’ve had people just reach out wanting to donate to the cause,” said Jana Ham of Sask Masks.

Ham said the initiative received 160 mask orders on the day the students announced the project, increasing to a peak 1,000 orders a week. Since the first day, the initiative has expanded to include 36 volunteer sewers and five fabric cutters.

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“We’ve recently seen a jump in businesses trying to bulk-order masks,” Ham said.

Ham and her twin sister Robyn, along with fellow students Jordan Tholl and Ryan Sellinger, have since expanded their idea into a source for good. To date, Sask Masks has raised more than $40,000 for a number of local charities including YWCA Regina, the Regina Food Bank, and Carmichael Outreach.

Ham said Sask Masks is using some of its kindness grant to continue efforts once fall classes resume. The rest of the money will be included in the donation pool.

Conexus has awarded grants to several other community mask makers, along with people who have helped spread joy through greeting cards, mental health initiatives and a quarantine cookbook for charity.

People have also nominated food delivery initiatives, such as the Reverse School Bus project in Regina.

Kam Bahia, a teacher and the founder of I Am: H.E.R., wanted to do something for the students who typically rely on school meal programs, but no longer have access to the COVID-19 lockdown.

Bahia’s brother, Kashmir, co-owns The Lobby Kitchen + Bar with Alvaro Santamaria. Kashmir said with the business abruptly closed due to the pandemic, and with a lot of extra product, they teamed up to start the program.

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“It started with one lunch drop-off and just escalated from there,” he said.

Since April, with the help of numerous volunteers — including Lobby staff who donated their time — the program has delivered over 400 meals to students in Regina.

“There is a need out there for kids, hot lunches specifically,” he said.

The Reverse School Bus will also run a weekly drop-in lunch pickup in August on Mondays from 2-4 p.m.

Even though the Guru Nanak Free Kitchen has operated at the corner of Angus Street and Dewdney Avenue for nearly two years, the meal and grocery initiative ramped up its efforts when the pandemic hit Saskatchewan.

“We had six or seven weeks where we served over 1,200 people every Sunday,” said Hem Juttla, a spokesperson for the free kitchen.

“During COVID-19, we not only had hot meals, but also dry products — lentils, chickpeas — so we were encouraging families to come and pick up meals and groceries to go.”

Led by Regina’s Sikh community, the Guru Nanak Free Kitchen has donated over 5,000 food parcels and personal protective equipment to people who faced hardships during the pandemic.

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“We also gave out masks, we gave out the spray for people’s hands, and we went to all four corners of the city,” Juttla said, adding the volunteer-run initiative is grateful for the $5,000 grant.

“We are thankful to Conexus Credit Union. Their gift is going to go a long ways. For example, our truck is not heated, … so we will be spending some money there.”

Juttla said the volunteer-run free kitchen operates every Sunday between 12:30 and 2 p.m. and whether it’s “-40 C to 40 C.” He said it is a safe place for anyone to receive a hot meal.

“This kitchen is not just for our [Sikh] community. … We do not push our religion, promote our religion. We are not here to convert anybody,” he said.

Online nominations are still open for the Conexus Credit Union Kindness Capital Fund. The tentative closing date is Aug. 10, or until all the funds are distributed.

The fund was created with administration revenue earned from the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) federal loan program, which is being used to re-invest into Saskatchewan.

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