Walk a Mile in Her Shoes smashes fundraising goal despite COVID-19

In her heart, Nicole Regehr didn’t think it would happen.

Not with the novel coronavirus pandemic putting so many people out of work. Not with infection control rules prohibiting large gatherings. Not with so many businesses under pressure.

But it did happen. And then some.

When Gillian’s Place, a north Niagara shelter for women in distress, asked for help, the region responded beyond Regehr’s hopes.

Regehr, director of development and violence prevention at the agency, said the annual Walk a Mile in Her Shoes fundraiser pulled in more than $103,765 Saturday — more than twice the modest goal Gillian’s Place had set.

“I’ve had a lump in my throat all day,” said Regehr. “We had set a goal of $50,000. To be honest, until a couple of days ago I didn’t think we would reach that. But then over the last 48 hours or so I watched those donations come in ... and it was just amazing.”

Walk a Mile in Her Shoes is the marque fundraising event for Gillian’s Place, which provides shelter and support for women and their children escaping abusive situations. The agency must raise about $500,000 annually to keep its services, primary shelter and transitional housing programming running.

The economic impacts of the pandemic have had a deleterious impact on many agencies dependent on fundraising. As people were laid off and businesses scaled back, so did donations.

Regehr said Gillian’s Place had initially set a goal of $135,000 for Walk a Mile in Her Shoes — typically men walk a mile inside The Pen Centre shopping mall in heels after collecting pledges — and depended on several third-party fundraisers that bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars each year.

Those smaller events were cancelled, and with The Pen Centre was no longer available, Gillian’s Place decided to transform Walk a Mile into a decentralized, virtual event and scaled back expectations.

Instead of a legion of men marching at the mall, walkers organized their own walks throughout the community. Until last week, Regehr said it seemed like even their modest goal would not be achieved.

“But the community came through for us in a big way,” she said. “We have a big group of core supporters and sponsors who understood, I think, that under the circumstances a lot of people were unable to donate so they really dug down to support us.”

Saturday’s total will take some of the impending financial pressure off of the agency and allow it to keep its programs running, Regehr said.

Gillian’s Place is not the only agency to move fundraisers online and still find strong community support during the pandemic.

Earlier this month The Big Move Cancer Ride raised $370,000 in a virtual version of its bike ride that supports cancer care in Niagara, and the Niagara Children’s Centre Superhero Run raised $80,000 in a virtual event.

Grant LaFleche
Grant LaFleche is a St. Catharines-based investigative reporter with the Standard. Reach him via email:

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