Since 1984, Aid to Women has provided counselling services and material support to women with crisis pregnancies. The agency's work changed in March 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic reached Toronto. Below, executive director Mary Helen Moes shares with us how Aid to Women is continuing to serve women amidst the ongoing pandemic.
1. What has been happening with Aid to Women over the past year?
In the last year, Aid to Women has been helping more women facing crisis pregnancies than ever before. Sadly, we have experienced a heart breaking increase in the number of women contacting us. Our numbers have doubled and, in some months, we’ve tripled our outreach. We are finding that women are considering aborting their child, even when they would like to keep their baby, because of a lack of support.
We’ve been able to provide them with professional counselling and the material needs of their baby, not just during their pregnancy and childbirth, but until their little one is two years old.
Our level of help seems unbelievable to them. Yet we continue to hone our skills everyday so woman in crisis will trust that we will deliver on our promise to them.
2. Tell us about Aid to Women and how it’s coping during COVID-19.
COVID-19 changed everything. But we are small enough that we can pivot and change quickly.
Our protocols changed rapidly from meeting the women at a distance, to by appointment only meetings (no walk-ins), to meeting by Zoom or phone only. It is harder to establish trust when you are not meeting in person. Yet women in need are still connecting with us. And because of that, some of the women we serve have already had their babies and there are more babies on the way!
We had to change how we serve those who have already given birth. We make a strong commitment while these woman are still pregnant that we will support them until their child is two years old. We do not take our commitments lightly. These women are our priority.
We found delivering goods to the mothers was a problem at first. Most of our volunteer drivers are over the age of 50 and were not comfortable entering large apartment buildings. We took that concern to heart and to mitigate the risks, we found young people who were laid off during the pandemic who were quite willing to help.
Other challenges had to be overcome. For example, it became difficult to accept donations from people's homes or to pick-up donations. Then there was not enough space to process the items (i.e. extra cleaning and safe handling). We took one of the rooms in our office and made it our COVID-19 donation room. Everything is placed in there for the recommended length of time for the virus to no longer be present on the items’ surfaces.
3. What is your greatest need during this pandemic?
Frankly, donations. We had planned four campaigns in churches throughout March and April, and our annual gala was scheduled for April. All of that came to an immediate halt because of the COVID-19 shutdown. The loss to our agency was extraordinary.
As the world came to a halt, we could not pause our work. We could not wait for the COVID-19 restrictions to be lifted. Our clients and their children need as much help as possible in these difficult times.
Thankfully, we shifted quickly. We held an online art auction by asking people to stay home, create, paint and donate. We had over 30 artists from Babies to Bishops donate their stay-at-home creations and our tiny online auction made some much needed dollars. We also had some amazing volunteers sew face masks, which we are selling for $6 - $10 each with the proceeds going to Aid to Women.
We are finding that most people are earning less now and they are also spending and donating less. We are learning quickly that fundraising success right now will not look like it did in the past. So we are pivoting to do things to support our women that we would have never dreamed of before. But if sewing masks makes money that helps us to pay our rent and buy diapers, then we are most grateful!4. Despite the office being closed to the public, what projects are Aid to Women currently working on?
Right now, I am working with perhaps the best board of directors I ever been blessed to know. These professionals are redoing our budgets, re-writing and approving policies to see us through in the short term and give us direction for the future.
We are calling all our donors to check-in with them and make sure they know we are still operating and need their support. Our donors play a critical role in making sure that our rent is paid and that the lights remain on, yet more important than that, we are able to do this great work that we feel called to do. More than that, we find strength in the support we are able to offer women.
Although we may not be operating exactly the same in the future, we are doing everything in our power to fulfill our commitment to serve women who are facing a crisis pregnancy. 5. What is your greatest hope for Aid to Women after this pandemic?
That we continue to save lives by connecting with one woman at a time. That we continue to listen to these women’s stories and help them through their crisis pregnancies by providing life-affirming options. That we are able to do this with full staff, in the same building and with all the bills paid.
We are passionate about serving women and saving lives every day. We do this hand-in-hand with our donors and loyal supporters. We look forward to the future with great hope, knowing that the need for our support will continue to grow.
To learn more about Aid to Women, please visit their website.