The Giving Gertie: a not-so-random act of kindness

Kathy Patterson and daughter Phoebe Seely 
co-founded the Giving Gertie fundraiser. Photo: Elspeth Tory

By Sarah Young

We’ve all been noticing a rise in the number of people living on the street. While we may not always be sympathetic, these men, women and youth are in need of our compassion and generosity. What to do about it?

One local mother-daughter duo heard the call and are doing something fantastic in response. On a recent Friday evening, I attended the launch in Old Ottawa South of their new non-profit called Giving Gertie. Its objective is to help others provide “not-so-random” acts of kindness by purchasing one (or many) of their Giving Gerties for just $5. They are reusable cloth bags containing a granola bar, a chocolate bar and a $2 Tim Horton’s gift card. Amidst the celebration, I caught up with the pair – Kathy Patterson and her 17-year-old daughter Phoebe Seely – to find out how it works and how it got started.

The Giving Gertie is a reusable cloth bag filled with goodies aimed at easing life for those living on the street.

Phoebe told me she and her mother wanted to make a difference and connect with the people they kept running into on the street. Phoebe says they were “racking their brains” to figure out how to do that. So they laid out their goals. First, they wanted to raise awareness; second, they wanted to facilitate connections between community residents and the homeless to share what Phoebe calls “our common humanity.” They came up with Giving Gerties. Kathy says they are perfect to purchase for a Christmas party as a takeaway gift because they are so affordable at $5 each. Everyone leaves the party with one and can give it out on the street as a compassionate act of kindness.

Why did they choose the name Giving Gertie? Kathy says the name Gertie could be anyone – your aunt or uncle, grandma or grandpa, friend or colleague, anyone. The name of their non-profit emphasizes that anyone with a will to give can make a difference, whether it’s big or small. If you want to know more about the name and how the project works, take a look at their website:

More Than One Way of Giving

As Phoebe explains, their not-for-profit creates a multi-layered way of giving. First, buying a Giving Gertie and giving it away helps the recipient. Second, all proceeds from sales go directly to one of three local charities listed on their website and the buyer can choose which one will receive it.

How do they pay for the Giving Gerties while donating all contributions to charity? The cost of making the Giving Gerties is covered by fundraisers such as the recent launch party which raised $3,000. Their next fundraiser is still being worked out. The mother-daughter team will participate in The Mission’s annual gala, where 100 Giving Gerties will be one of the raffle prizes – it’s expected that the winner will distribute all the bags during the holiday season. It’s a great way to help directly and build awareness of the project.

They say that when street people receive a Giving Gertie, look you in the eye and say “You just made my day,” the experience can be profound. As Kathy remarks, the giver gets just as much out of the experience as the recipient. Phoebe chimes in that the goal is to create moments of compassion and connection that “without the Giving Gertie just simply wouldn’t happen on a normal day.”

I have to admit I had tears in my eyes as I left the launch party hand in hand with my 13- year-old daughter. On the way home, we talked about ways we could develop our own mother-daughter initiative. I hope Giving Gertie will inspire other parent-youth duos in our community and catch on as the best way to mark this year’s holiday season.

And the winter. And the spring.

Sarah Young is chair of the Glebe Community Association’s Zero Waste Committee.

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