Fort McMurray's social profits challenged in 2023 as donations continued dropping

Council was warned underfunding social services creates more problems with crime, addictions, poverty and different forms of abuse.

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The past year has been challenging for social profit sectors, council was told at their Dec. 5 meeting, as a five-year drop in donations continued. Layoffs, economic uncertainty and the rising cost of living has stretched the resources of many organizations in the region.

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Donations to social profits in the region have dropped by 33 per cent over the last five years and 47 per cent in 2023. Council was warned underfunding social services creates more problems with crime, addictions, poverty and different forms of abuse.

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“The reality is that when donations decline, the need for social services actually go up. Without services the cost to our community grows exponentially,” said Bob MacKay, the 2023 community campaign chair for the United Way of Fort McMurray and Wood Buffalo.

“It is, in fact, the social profit sector that provides essential programs and services that save the municipality millions of dollars each year by preventing and treating issues at a fraction of the cost.”

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The presentation from United Way was part of a regularly scheduled update on the state of local social profits. MacKay warned services will be cut or reduced if donations remain low. The United Way of Fort McMurray and Wood Buffalo raised $1.5 million of their $3-million goal for 2023, he said.

Other social profits in the region have confirmed this trend. Dan Edwards, executive director of the Wood Buffalo Food Bank, says calls for help these days are the highest it’s ever been in the 12 years he’s worked for the organization. Edwards adds 2024 will be just as busy. Meanwhile, a food drive this past weekend failed to meet financial and donation goals.

MacKay told council a story about a man who had ended homeless and addicted to drugs after losing his son to an accident. The man became a regular at the Salvation Army and spoke with volunteers about his life and battles with addictions.

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Months later, the man disappeared and the staff feared he had overdosed or self-harmed. But one day the man arrived at the Salvation Army, looking healthy and clean. He thanked the Salvation Army for giving him the hope to get sober and rebuild his life.

“This story is just one of 1000s that we hear of in our sector and in our region,” said Cathy Steeves, executive director of the United Way in the region. “Thanks to those frontline workers, tens of thousands of our regional citizens are happy, healthy and contributing members of society. Many more are currently on their journey to a brighter future.”

Steeves added the Alberta government has increased tax credits for charitable giving. There is also a federal tax credit for donating to charities.

“Families are very nervous about giving when there is that job uncertainty,” said Steeves. “We are your philanthropy brokers. We know where the need is. We are good at what we do. We make every dollar go the extra mile and your return on your donation investment is substantial for your community.”

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