JGH Auxiliary regaining momentum after COVID-19 setbacks
As it rebounds from the COVID-19 pandemic, The JGH Auxiliary has been hard at work reviving many of its familiar programs, even though a few of its most popular activities are still on hold or have been discontinued.
The Auxiliary, which has been raising funds since 1936 to improve essential JGH programs and services, has been coping with a series ups and downs—closing in March 2020, partially reopening four months later, shutting down again from the fall of 2020 to the end of winter in 2021, and then steadily coming back to life since the spring of this year.
“Everyone misses the camaraderie and warmth of getting together in person,” says Auxiliary Director Nancy Rubin, referring to members of her organization, most of whom have been meeting on Zoom for well over a year.
Ms. Rubin explains that The Auxiliary has been finding ways to make the best of a difficult situation—for instance, raising $15,000 early in the pandemic by selling masks online for $5 or $10 apiece.
However, the financial support that The Auxiliary provides to the hospital has dropped significantly, because many revenue-generating activities were forced to go dark during the pandemic and are still in the process of bouncing back.
For example, the collectibles shops and the Milly Lande Boutique—which sell clothing, handbags, jewlery, collectibles, antiques and other items in the main lobby and in Pavilion K—normally raise an average of $250,000 annually. This year, says Ms. Rubin, “I expect we’ll take in around $100,000.
“It’s disheartening, but after everything we’ve been through, I’m happy that we’re regaining our strength and that The Auxiliary will still be allocating funds to the JGH at the end of the year.”
Ms. Rubin notes that it used to be common for some of The Auxiliary’s major sales (especially the Fall Fair) to attract a great many people who happened to be passing by the hospital and, on an impulse, dropped in and shop. Due to the safety precautions related to the pandemic, this clientele has disappeared.
Now, says Ms. Rubin, The Auxiliary’s customers are primarily members of staff, outpatients and those who are visiting inpatients, “although, from what I’ve been told, the hospital is getting fewer outpatients and visitors per day than it used to.”
Despite these setbacks, Ms. Rubin says a revitalization of The Auxiliary is in the works. A push is under way to promote the Milly Lande Boutique and the two outlets (in Pavilions A and K) where collectibles and antiques are sold.
As well, she says, clothing is sold “at ridiculously low prices” to hospital staff in the Boutique en bas in the basement of Pavilion A (room A-001) on Mondays and Wednesdays from 7:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
“It’s part of our mandate to look after the hospital’s staff, and since it’s hard for them to get out and shop these days, we do what we can to give them a hand.”
One-day sales will also be held more often in pop-up shops at various locations in the hospital—notably, an upcoming (but not yet scheduled) toy sale for Christmas. Ms. Rubin says that earlier this year, response was strong for pop-up sales of vintage clothing, kitchen gadgets and glassware, and more sales on the way.
Also in the planning stages are a major raffle and the publication (possibly next year) of a cookbook.
At the same time, Auxiliary members have been kept engaged and interested through a variety of virtual activities on Zoom, including visits to the McCord Museum, the Art Gallery of Ontario and the ANU Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv.
As well, there have been lectures and discussions on Zoom about substance and behaviour addiction, women’s rights in Israel, and the Jewish roots of American statesman Alexander Hamilton.
However, there’s no denying that the pandemic has taken its toll:
- The Atrium Café, on the ground floor of Pavilion E, has been shuttered since March 2020. The Auxiliary is still trying to determine how it can be operated more cost-effectively.
- “Our days of the Fall Fair are over,” says Ms. Rubin about one of The Auxiliary’s most successful events. Not only can casual customers no longer be accommodated, but the Pavilion A auditorium (the Fair’s traditional home) is being renovated and will not be available to The Auxiliary. However, many of the items that used to be offered at the Fair will be available at pop-up sales.
- The Book Nook in the lobby of Pavilion A, where used books had been sold for decades, has had to close to make way for a COVID-19 security desk. Pop-up book sales are now being planned.
- The Auxiliary has suspended (but not cancelled) a program in which volunteers read aloud to premature newborns to aid in the infants’ development. However, the parents of preemies will continue to receive a free book, which they will be encouraged to read to their child.
- No date has yet been scheduled to resume the weekly visits of Dr. Clown, a troupe of red-nosed merry-makers, who are specially trained to use humour to raise spirits in a healthcare setting.
“We’re grateful for the clothing and the numerous other items that many generous companies and individuals have continued to provide to us,” says Ms. Rubin. “We also appreciate the work that some of our volunteers are performing on a reduced schedule.
“The pandemic has been tough for everyone, which is why The Auxiliary will keep plugging away. We want to continue doing as much as possible to provide patients and staff with the support they’ve come to expect from us.”