Those in need of items and services might soon have a more efficient way of finding donors thanks to a new non-profit aiming to facilitate community giving.
Give for Good, an organization started by St. Albert resident Meighan Sommer, endeavours to use a website where everything from hockey skates to haircuts can be searched for or offered. The site will also have an ongoing bulletin of highly requested items, similar to Edmonton's Bissell Centre or Boyle Street.
Sommer, who presented her idea during a May 31 St. Albert council meeting, started Give for Good as a passion project two years ago. She said the idea came to her after she listed a couch for free on Facebook Marketplace.
"Within 10 minutes of posting the ad I was inundated with messages, and some of the stories were really heartbreaking," Sommer said. "I thought that it was just crazy that our old couch could mean so much to so many."
The experience got Sommer thinking about better ways to facilitate giving in online spaces.
"I wanted to make something like a Kijiji or a Facebook Marketplace, but just for giving," Sommer said. "An online space that's accessible, private, and easy to use."
Sommer said she hoped the website would be a hub that could provide everything from pro-bono legal work to baby items, physiotherapy, and walk shovelling.
"A family that's had a hard year could go on and say, 'Our kids really want to play hockey and we can't afford the fees or the equipment,'" she said. "Another family in the community could say, 'This is something that we can easily do,' and know the direct impact their donation is making."
While thrift stores often throw out surplus goods they can't stock on shelves, and donation depots can be difficult to access for those without a vehicle, Sommer said she thinks Give for Good could address these issues by connecting people directly. Additionally, because volunteering can sometimes entail a significant time commitment, Sommer said Give for Good could help those with busy schedules quickly find ways to make an impact.
"Maybe a hairdresser can find time to do one free haircut a month," Sommer said. "With Give for Good, you don't have to actually commit to an organization to be able to give."
Preparing to scale
In the future, Sommer hopes to make Give for Good available across Canada, but said she has been cautioned about the challenges of scaling rapidly once the project gets off the ground.
"We spoke with an organization out of Vancouver who tried something similar for food, and the woman who runs it said her one piece of advice was to make sure that we have our ducks in a row before we open the website up to everybody," Sommer said. "She told me her website went viral right away and they weren't able keep up."
Sommer said the organization has been applying for grant funding to hire employees to maintain its website, but she described the process as "really difficult" due to Give for Good's relative newness. Alongside grants, the non-profit is also looking for corporate sponsors to support the platform, but in the meantime, Sommer said she is picking up some new skills.
"My background is health care and I have no clue what I'm doing when it comes to digital stuff, but I'm learning," Sommer said. "It's a whole new world and language."
The organization has had some free-of-charge assistance with WordPress from the organization Top Draw, a digital branding agency based in Edmonton. Sommer also said students from the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology have assisted with developing the back end of the website.
Now, Give for Good is planning a pilot project with the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers. The trial is set to begin later this summer and will focus exclusively on items before services are incorporated into the website.
Sommer said she's planning to begin spreading the word to Facebook mom groups with the hope of getting the attention of people willing to donate. She said she hopes the website can be fully operational soon while the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are still being felt by many.
"The pandemic has really adversely affected non-profits, and families in need," Sommer said. "I really do think that this platform provides an innovative solution to allow people who really want to give back an avenue to do so. I really hope it helps."