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Maria Maille shows Rotary Club can still make a difference despite COVID

'That was a big draw for me because they were teaching kids the value of that hard work and the real joy of being able to give this money to someone who needs it'

This is one of a series of articles, as part of the feature called "Helpers", which focuses on people and organizations that help make our community better.

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Even during a challenging year, The Rotary Club of Nipissing has been finding a way to make a difference in the community. Past President and member of the Board of Directors Maria Maille says the face shield donation program is something that has helped in two ways.

First, by distributing face shields that are made from a local company (ProtectON) they are helping slow the spread of COVID-19 in the community by getting these into the hands of the people who need them.

But there is also the added incentive of this being the only fundraiser they can do this year as the money from the purchases of the face shields will go toward care packages for people in need.

“We’re partnering with three other organizations in the city to provide care packages for kids and seniors,” says Maille. “These would help provide certain articles that they might not otherwise get. So, for the seniors, we’d like to do something for people who don’t have family or don’t have family close by, and it would all be stuff that meets their basic needs. We’d provide them with books, and brushes and socks. We just got approval for a grant for that and we are mandated to match everything in that grant through money that has been fundraised. Our only fundraiser that we can do right now is the face shields.”

Normally they would have been able to raise money through an event that many people in the community look forward to: Lobsterfest.

“Every year we had raised more and more money. We would come up with better ideas and fundraisers during the Lobsterfest event and we really missed out on having that this year and that really bit into our fundraising capital. Everything we do, every penny that we give out, we have raised,” says Maille.

It’s one of the reasons she wanted to join Rotary in the first place because they can make a difference in the community.   

“I had a friend, Carrie Johnson, who was always posting on Facebook about these amazing things the club was doing. I asked her about it, and she told me to come out for a meeting. So, I went to several meetings because I wanted to understand the projects, where they were coming from, and just knowing the group a little better. They invited me to join and it's been six years and I haven’t looked back. We’re an amazing club, we’re small but mighty and we do great work,” she says.

However, that philanthropic mentality didn’t take off when she joined the club. Maille says those efforts to give back has been a lifelong goal.

“All the way through school, our classes were involved in different charitable works. Bake sales for something in the community were big and so I grew up in that venue and then as a parent, I had my kids involved in dance, hockey, volleyball, cadets,” says Maille.  

“So, with each of those activities, I’ve been involved in fundraising from a parental standpoint. I think the big message for kids is that when they see their parents or other parents working hard to allow them to participate in sports or go to a tournament, they see how spending that time and investing that energy can really go a long way to achieving what you want.”

In fact, those values that were instilled helped a family in a time of dire need.  
 
“One of my kid's hockey teams raised a bunch of money to go to a tournament, but one of their teammates got leukemia and all of the money that we fundraised went to that family. And our kids were just over the moon proud that the money they raised went to help their friend.”

For Maille, that theme of taking pride in the efforts of children continued in her role with the Rotary Club.   

“I loved the children's charity fair that ran for several years,” she says.  

“That was where we reached out to kids in the community between the ages of 8-13. They would make a craft and then we would have them assemble at Northgate and have a sale date so that the kids could sell their crafts. The goal was that each child, or group of kids, would then donate their proceeds to a local charity. They would spend the day at the mall selling their stuff at the table and at the end of the day we would have the benefactors show up. Usually, it was the Humane Society, or The Gathering Place and they would receive the money the children made that day.”

Maille says this was a worthwhile event for everyone involved.

“It was always very satisfying because the kids would work on that craft for several weeks and then they would sell it and promote what they have created and to talk about the charity they were sponsoring. That was a big draw for me because they were teaching kids the value of that hard work and the real joy of being able to give this money to someone who needs it.”

The pandemic has made life difficult for everyone and there has been a concentrated effort by many organizations to find ways to step up and support the most vulnerable people, whether it's in their own community or abroad. Maille says the Rotary Club made huge strides in helping a member club in Orleans, Ontario get money for an orphanage in Costa Rica. The orphanage relied heavily on donations from tourists and with global travel virtually shut down, the funding dried up. Maille says the club in Orleans and the club here in North Bay was able to hold a virtual garage sale to raise money.   
 
“To be able to do a fundraiser for the orphanage in Costa Rica, in the middle of COVID when no one could get together in person was amazing. We had people running the auction, dropping things off, delivering other items, it was done very carefully and done so well, and through that, we were able to supply that orphanage with over $4,000 which allowed them to eat. Most of their money came from tourism and with no one being able to travel, they were losing a lot of money. It was a real blessing to be able to do that.”

Maille says just being part of the club has also been a shining light through the last 10 months.

“It's been a challenge, but it's been fun at the same time, mostly because Kevin Smith (President) is wonderful and full of enthusiasm. He keeps us in touch and keeps us engaged and keeps us talking about what projects we want to do or the ones we are working on. The relationships we have built as friends can continue virtually and it's been joyful to see everyone once a week.”  

Maille would like readers to know they can order face shields and continue to support the fundraiser for care packages  by going to Rotarynipissingfaceshields@gmail.com

If you have a story suggestion for the “helpers” series, send Matt an email at m.sookram@outlook.com.