The fundraising efforts of a group of dedicated volunteers in southwest Saskatchewan are making a real difference in the lives of area residents living with chronic illness.
Southwest Chronic Disease Support Inc. (SWCDS) uses funds raised through various initiatives to provide financial help for individuals with a chronic illness, who may have various expenses associated with their condition.
SWCDS Secretary Brenda Waldron, a founding member of the non-profit charity organization, felt their impact has been beyond her own expectations.
“I feel it's better than my wildest dreams,” she mentioned. “I was one of the original members and I'll tell you, our organization has taken off and helped more people in the last three years than I really dreamed would be possible.”
It approved 71 different applications during that last two fiscal years and disbursed just over $43,000 to beneficiaries.
The goal of the organization is to raise funds and to provide financial support for those experiencing hardships due to extra costs related to their chronic illness. Funds provided to beneficiaries will typically cover travel, meal and accommodation expenses.
“Our medical system is theoretically free, but you still have to get there and if you don't have the money to travel, you're probably not going to get that treatment,” she said.
She has personally seen the difference that this help can make in the lives of individuals who are dealing with the financial stress of expenses associated with their illness. She handed a cheque to an unemployed man who used the money for gas to take his wife to Regina for cancer treatment.
“He was in tears,” she recalled. “He said ‘If we couldn't get the money from you, my wife wouldn't have a treatment, because we're totally tapped out.’”
She will often assist applicants with enquiries and the completion of forms. The SWCDS board has allowed her to help people to fill out applications, because she is not a member of the committee that will review request for financial support.
“If you’re really sick, you really don’t want to fill out any forms, you don’t want to think about it, and you don’t want to have to deal with it,” she said. “So every time I process an application, just the relief and the gratitude in people knowing that’s one more thing they don’t have to worry about. It's an amazing, heartwarming feeling.”
Each application will be reviewed by the committee to determine eligibility for financial support, and the committee members include medical professionals.
“We have a very good applications committee,” she said. “They know exactly what they're doing. One of the members of the committee was involved with home care for a number of years and another one is a medical professional. So they understand what the diseases area and they understand the processes that these people have to go through.”
Applicants will have to provide some details about their income, based on their recent income tax returns, as well as information from their physician about their chronic condition. This information will be used by the committee to determine the financial support that can be provided to a person.
“According to our guidelines, we can give someone $1,000 every quarter, depending on their income,” Waldron explained. “So some people have received a couple of hundred dollars, because that’s what they need or that’s what they could receive. It’s based on a specific formula, and it can be up to $1,000 every three months. That is the maximum, except in extreme circumstances, where the board might determine to give them more.”
The SWCDS is currently active in the communities of Shaunavon, Gull Lake, Eastend, Frontier and Climax. Volunteers from these areas are either represented on the board or assisting with the activities of the organization, including fundraising initiatives.
“We've had multiple fundraising events, everything from a princess ball to a garage sale,” she said. “We've served meals after Boomtown Days parade and anything to put money into our coffers. Our biggest thing, and it is turning out to be one of our main fundraisers, is the Longest Day of Golf on June 21. It has been an amazing fundraiser for us.”
The SWCDS appreciates any support from the business community in southwest Saskatchewan. Their annual fundraising efforts start in January with sponsorship month, when they will approach potential sponsors to assist them during the year. All sponsorship donations are eligible for charitable tax receipts.
Larger sponsorships on the gold ($3,000 and over), silver ($1,000 and over) and bronze ($500 and over) levels will be acknowledge very publicly for the entire year on the large SWCDS sign, which is located on 3rd Avenue in Shaunavon.
The initial discussions to create SWCDS started nearly five years ago and it took a lot of effort to work out all the details before it was organized and incorporated in December 2016. Waldron appreciates the good support from the community for the organization and for their efforts to assist people living with chronic disease.
Two of their ongoing challenges are to create more awareness in the community about SWCDS and to actually get people living with a chronic illness to submit requests for financial assistance to them. “Pride, especially in rural communities, is huge, and I get that,” she said. “We have to convince people that this is not charity. This is a gift, and there's a big difference. We want them to be able to let us help them pay their medical expenses so they don't have to choose between food on the table and a power bill, because in critical conditions that's what it could come down to. So the biggest education has been to let people know what we do, how to get in touch with us, and that it is OK to ask for a helping hand.”
The SWCDS will therefore continue with their promotion efforts in 2020 to raise more awareness about their activities, and they will be attending trade shows and other public events.
Their website is currently being redesigned and the new site will launch in the near future. In the meantime, information about SWCDS and their activities are available on their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/swcdsinc (@swcdsinc). Donations can be mailed to P.O. Box 458, Shaunavon, and any telephone enquiries can be directed to Brenda Waldron at 306-294-7756.