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Challenging year for District 69 SOS revealed in organization’s annual report

Community still managed to band together to support local charity
When SOS had to put programs for children, youth and families on hold due to the pandemic, they moved to a delivery model in 2020, dropping off food and activities, and checking in on families. Pictured, SOS child, youth and family programs worker Bob Barfoot drops off items for a local family. (Submitted photo)

By Lissa Alexander

It was a very challenging year at the Society of Organized Services, but the community banded together to support the local charity, ensuring the needs of residents would continue to be met.

That’s the overarching message in the society’s recently released annual report.

“When the pandemic hit, we could no longer operate in our usual way,” said Susanna Newton, SOS executive director. “Every day things were changing. We had to close our Thrift Shop and lay off 80 per cent of our staff.”

SOS needed help, and the society had to ask for it. Starting with the Grateful Hearts Campaign, SOS launched a series of fundraising campaigns that reached out to the community. The call was answered, said SOS board chair, Martin Fereday.

“Volunteers, donors, staff and directors stepped up when our Thrift Shop was forced to close, and provided the resources we needed to continue,” he said.

SOS began grocery shopping for seniors and staff called senior clients to ensure their basic needs were being met. Residents in need were connected with professional counsellors online, and a pick-up system was set up for emergency vouchers.

Other essential services were also continued, such as Meals On Wheels, Homeless Prevention Program, Income Tax Program, Oceanside Better at Home and Caring for Community at Christmas. Since in-house programs for children, youth and families had to be halted, home cooked meals and activities were delivered to them and staff provided additional resources if needed.

READ MORE: New charitable ‘Biz for Good’ program part of $1M SOS initiative

The Thrift Shop reopened in June 2020, after three months of closure, with enhanced cleaning procedures, new signage and social distancing measures. Once trained, approximately 30 volunteers returned to assist. Mary Ellen Berry is one of those volunteers.

“It kind of saved my sanity because I live alone and I’ve got a pretty small bubble,” she said, adding she felt very safe knowing everyone was wearing a mask, the number of customers in the store was limited and plexiglass was installed around the cash desk where she worked.

Whereas the Thrift Shop typically provides SOS with approximately 80 per cent of its funding, revenue dropped significantly due to the pandemic restrictions, bringing that number down to 43 per cent. Government COVID-19 subsidies helped the society last year, accounting for approximately 15 per cent of the revenue brought in, but the biggest difference was financial donations, increasing from 10 per cent to 23 per cent of revenue.

“I am forever grateful to our community members, those who have stood with us for years, and others who heard our call for help this past year, and felt compelled to join us,” said Newton.

Newton said SOS has big plans for the year ahead, hoping to “reach more and do more” with their campaign Project Rebuild. Thanks to community support and encouragement, she believes the future looks bright for SOS.

The SOS Annual Report can be viewed on the SOS website in the About section. For more information on SOS Project Rebuild, visit

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About the Author: Parksville Qualicum Beach News Staff

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