The current COVID-19 crisis has hit nearly all aspects of society, and non-profit charities that give out food and services to the less fortunate are no exception.
Here in Montreal, a group of tech executives led by founder Alan MacIntosh have been running charity events for four years now under the TechAide banner. About 17 ambassadors help create events and spread the word along with MacIntosh.
The proceeds from TechAide events go to Centraide of Greater Montreal, which raises money and invests it among 350 local non-profits to break the cycle of poverty and social exclusion. Centraide was initially founded in 1966.
Laurent Maisonnave, the head of product at FIZZ and an ambassador for TechAide, told MTLinTECH that the money raised by community efforts like TechAide events is essential in order to help fight poverty in Montreal. And that’s especially during the current crisis.
“The idea is that we’re usually very lucky individuals in the tech community. We love what we do and our salaries are usually good. And at the same time in Montreal we see a lot of poverty. Last year, 21 percent of the population of Montreal was living under the poverty line,” said Maisonnave.
The poverty line works out to an annual income of roughly $15,000 for an individual and $40,000 for a family.
TechAide Montreal: Events that help
An example of a TechAide event that raised money for Centraide were the 2018 and 2019 AI conference, headed up in previous years by local tech mind Hugo Larochelle, a Google Brain researcher and machine learning professor. Maisonnave estimated that the event raised over $200,000 for Centraide.
Food for thought: if you ever organize a 1-day technical workshop which you know many would pay to attend, consider working with a non-profit to simultaneously raise funds for a good cause. We did it in Montreal with @TechAideMTL and it was a pretty good success. https://t.co/j3Kpv4MQnC
— Hugo Larochelle (@hugo_larochelle) April 21, 2018
Maisonnave organized a tech soccer match that raised $32,000. Meanwhile several game nights have risen money at Google, Ubisoft and Element AI.
“It’s events where we have fun, we talk about how we can help and we raise money for Centraide,” said Maisonnave.
Groups like TechAide can offer help to Centraide in three ways: cash, volunteers and tech expertise. For example, the 2019 AI Conference sought expertise in AI and Data to analyze the data from non-profits and identify best practises, or better ways to support the community.
Donations, money goes to real organizations on the ground
Last year The Depot, an NDG-based non-profit, received help from over 1,000 volunteers. The Depot gets about 16 percent of its annual budget from Centraide.
But tough times have fallen over the non-profit as a result of COVID, said director Daniel Rotman.
Demand for food boxes has skyrocketed among their less fortunate clientele. At the conclusion of April, Rotman estimates they’ll have burned through half a year’s total food in one month. The Depot is giving out more food, and delivering much of it directly to the doors of clients.
“Our demand has increased almost exponentially since COVID started. Last year we averaged 111 people per month,” said Rotman. “Now we’re seeing almost 100 people a day lining up to receive an emergency food basket for the first time. And these are new people we hadn’t seen before.”
They’ve been able to benefit from the Ville de Montreal and Centraide emergency fund, which added a much-needed $50,000. However, food will cost them $100,000 alone this month.
That said, Rotman is grateful that donations have poured in from all different kinds of benefactors. That includes groups like TechAide who contribute money to the Centraide funnel.
“I do think that the community spirit, raising awareness, it’s a valuable effort because it brings more people in,” said Rotman. “It’s been wonderful to watch the community spirit that comes out of this crisis. I think many people ask how to help and it’s really appreciated. The monetary donations go a long way.”
The most important way to help
That said, Rotman emphasized that while community efforts are always great, the most important thing is giving money. Non-profits like the The Depot desperately need money donations to feed their clientele, more than even volunteering efforts.
“While volunteering for businesses and organizations is important, really the most effective way to support a community organization is giving money. It might not be the feel-good story, but it’s the most efficient way. It’s probably the best return on your investment in supporting organizations,” said Rotman.
“The organizations can put it towards what’s needed most. Organizations are very efficient at spending money in an efficient way, just based on the fact that many of us have lived through precarious funding times.”