15 Juillet 2020

Pay It Forward

Sometimes big ideas can reach small places and the people who most need help.

When Timbercreek Communities saw how its small-business tenants across the country were struggling during the COVID-19 shutdown, they wanted to show support. They didn't want to do it as a landlord, per se, but rather as a partner. So, Timbercreek launched a fundraising effort among its investors, trade partners, employees, their friends and family, and through social media. The company matched the $12,500 raised and used it to purchase goods and services from 15 of its small business tenants from Edmonton to Montreal and two small businesses nearby its communities in Ottawa and Toronto. In turn, the small businesses chose local organizations and efforts to support with the goods and services purchased through the effort, which they named the Small Business Support Program.

"We have a number of really small mom-and-pop shops among our tenants, and we wanted to support them in a way where they could pay it forward," said Timbercreek Marketing and Social Responsibility Manager Jasmin Pirani. "It was a win-win where we could purchase goods and services, and they, in turn, could get them into the hands of those who most need them."

The fundraising was a success partly because employees and those connected to Timbercreek were kept apprised. "I think having a direct tie to the Timbercreek community helps individuals and supporters understand where and how their  dollars were being spent and the impact those dollars make at the end of the day," said Pirani.

The small-business owners who participated were asked to look at local community organizations or areas they supported already, were interested in supporting or knew needed support during this time. All of the owners did due diligence, carefully researching and choosing recipients of their goods or services.

"Kania, for example, a women's clothing store in Ottawa, donated 35 sweaters to a women's shelter in their area," she said. "A restaurant in Montreal donated 100 combo meals to a local shelter. A mini-mart, Bonisoir, donated non-perishables to  an organization that was distributing them to families and individuals who needed it most in the community.

"We've had a wide range of where the donations are going," Pirani continued. "We've also supported a couple of hospitals, like Toronto Western Hospital, where Mean Bao on Bathurst Street delivered a fresh lunchtime meal."

One of the more unusual businesses taking part in the program was a tax service in Ottawa that will be helping individuals who don't know how to or can't afford to file their taxes.

"No matter what the business, every owner we called was not only appreciative but was also thinking of ways they maybe could match contributions so that their dollars could go even further in that community or within that organization," she said.  "And although the small business owners are in a time of turmoil and a lot are suffering right now, they wanted to come to the table and find out how they could also provide support in their own way, outside of the financial contribution we were giving them. I think that speaks to small business owners and their mindset and their constant willingness to support those around them, despite what they are going through, which I think is really special."

Pirani also talked about Teresa's Bridal in Winnipeg, they approached about taking part in the program. "You can only imagine what they are going through right now with weddings being halted, so our regional manager reached out and asked if they wanted to participate," she said. "It's a bit of a different offering, so we weren't quite sure what they would come to the table with or what they might think of to do."

 It turned out they had a number of scarves and winterwear they wanted to donate to a homeless shelter in the later months, when it gets extremely cold.

"The owner was ecstatic, and almost near tears with appreciation for being part of the program," said Pirani.

The program put a new light on the relationship between the tenants and Timbercreek.

"Across the board, when we talked to our tenants, we weren't a landlord in that way anymore," she said. "We were really bridging the gap and wanted to be a partner, and I think our partnership mentality has come through in this program and will continue to shine as we roll out toolkits and different ways for our small businesses to survive and thrive as we come out of COVID."

Pirani said it's been rewarding to be involved in these types of programs, particularly one with such a long reach.

"It's a small but mighty program that showcases how we are a partner with our tenants and how we want and continue to support them during this challenging time," she said. "I'm personally very proud of the program. I have entrepreneurial parents and family members who are suffering just as much right now. And to know in our own way that we are helping take some of that burden away from our tenants and support them. And at the end of the day, we are also supporting the Canadian economy by getting money back into these places and allowing people who need it the most to benefit from this program."

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