For over 20 years the Fort Frances Community chest has been helping local families with urgent financial needs surrounding medical issues.
The fund was initially set up and hosted an annual dinner to give funds to a single family in need, but changed one year after that family returned some of the money according to Linda Hamilton who coordinates the fund.
“We used to have a dinner at the Rendez-Vous… and we would pick a family that was in medical crisis and give them this pot of money that we made at our dinners,” Hamilton said. “One year we gave the money to a family and unfortunately the young person passed away and the family gave us, I think, $8,000 back. So we put it in the bank and started thinking ‘how about if we spread it around a bit and instead of giving this large amount to one family, see if we can spread it around as people need it.’”
Hamilton says the fund is open to anyone in the Rainy River District aside from Atikokan which she says is a big enough community to be able to help out their own.
She says the committee has changed a lot in that there really isn’t much of a committee any more as they don’t hold any large events. Hamilton gets help from her granddaughter Kali Brady at times when she needs it.
The large events have gone by the wayside as others have done events and given the proceeds to the Community Chest or have been left bequests in peoples’ estates.
The funds are handled by the Town of Fort Frances and donations are eligible for tax receipts.
Hamilton stressed that the fund is for emergencies, not, for example, not wanting to wait for a travel grant.
“When people have to go to Thunder Bay and Winnipeg, if it’s an overnight they can kind of manage in a pinch. We don’t do travel grants up front as in ‘I just don’t want to wait six weeks for my money,’” she said. “But if you’re in a pinch and can’t go, we’ll up front the travel grant and add more if we have to. But what we’re finding is if someone has to go to Toronto that’s $3,100. Not very many people have that kind of money kicking around. They’ve probably maxed out their credit cards just going back and forth to Thunder Bay and now they’re confronted with having to be in Toronto for a few days.”
Often those trips to Toronto can go from being there for a few days for tests and turn into being there for a week and with the cost of hotels and other expenses going up, it can get expensive quickly. Provincial travel grants cover $100 per night up to a cost of $500 and hotel rooms have gotten upwards of $250 per night.
Hamilton gave an example of a typical situation they’d be able to help with.
“Say a woman goes into labour prematurely in Fort Frances and gets airlifted to Thunder Bay,” she said. “The husband’s in the hotel, young couples often don’t have that kind of money. So we help out with hotels, travel, food, whatever they need.”
Hamilton says they don’t discriminate based on how much money a person has when they ask for help.
“It’s got nothing to do with how much money you have or what you own or don’t own,” she said. “You could have two kids in university and not have the cash that you need. We’re pretty casual, I try not to investigate people. We’re not trying to do a means test, but I might ask some awkward questions sometimes. But if you need help then I guess sometimes you have to put your pride in your pocket.”
She added that in the 20-plus years of the Community Chest she only recalls being scammed two or three times.
Hamilton says people who have benefitted from the fund are some of their best donors.
“What we have noticed is that people that are younger then, and have been fairly successful give back tenfold,” she said. “One example is the run that Leanne Spry did. Leanne has been very open about the fact that when she and her husband had their first child we helped and she often does things on her farm and gives proceeds to us. So we do get it back and we’re very grateful.”
The need for the Community Chest has changed in recent years with the advent of platforms like GoFundMe which can help people raise money online for similar emergency needs adding that the fund doesn’t dole out multiple thousands of dollars.
“GoFundMe has changed a lot for us,” Hamilton said. “When somebody now gets in some sort of financial trouble, they can do a GoFundMe and get way more money than we’d ever give them. If they are doing a GoFundMe, we generally don’t give then. We’ve kind of got the opinion that if somebody else should be helping then we don’t. I don’t have to give large amounts of money, it might be just a few hundred dollars, sometimes it might be $1,000 but never thousands.”
She added that they feel they should be more of a last option for people in real need.
“We try to be a last resort,” Hamilton said. “I’m also not a navigator. I’m not making arrangements, I can make suggestions ‘did you try this, did you do that?’ Case in point is Tamarack House in Thunder Bay for cancer patients…10 years ago if you couldn’t get into Tamarack House if it was full they paid for you to stay somewhere else. So we want them to explore those options before calling us. We’re just trying to be responsible with our donated money.”
Donations can be made through the Town of Fort Frances at the Civic Centre or by contacting Hamilton. She says they may plan an event in the near future mostly to promote the fund but also to help replenish it.
Those who may be looking to avail of funds from the Community Chest can contact Hamilton at 807-275-9268.
Hamilton also said that the Community Chest is just neighbours trying to help one another.
“We’re just donated money that we’ve gathered up,” She said. “It’s your friends and your neighbours trying to help you and it’s humbling, but at the same time we’re trying to be responsible.”