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Seniors donate pandemic aid money totalling $65K in fundraiser organized by Air Farce’s Don Ferguson

Working with some high school friends, Royal Canadian Air Farce star Don Ferguson has helped seniors in Canada to raise more than $55,000 for charity during the pandemic.

Since the onset of COVID-19, charities have reported a significant slump in donations, as the economic impact cost many Canadians their jobs and led many more to tighten their belts. 

The federal government has responded with financial aid initiatives targeting various demographics. Charities are covered by wage subsidies, as well as a dedicated $350 million fund. Senior Canadians are eligible for a one-time tax-free payment of $300 to $500.

Speaking with some high school friends, Ferguson realized that there are many seniors who don’t need that payment and thought it could be put to better use.

He spoke to The Current’s guest host Nahlah Ayed about how the group is helping some seniors to help those most in need during the pandemic. Here is part of their conversation.

Ferguson, left, John Morgan, centre left, Roger Abbott, centre right, and Luba Goy are seen in a publicity photo from the 1990s. (CBC Still Photo Collection/Air Farce Productions Inc.)

Tell me about Seniors Giving Back. How did this come about?

We’d gotten word of this $300 federal payment that was going to go out to seniors across Canada. And we said quite a few of us didn’t need it. What should we do? So we organized this website called SeniorsGivingBack.org. 

Seniors who don’t need the $300, it lets them go online, find a charity of their choice and make a donation. 

And the great thing is the donation actually doesn’t cost much, because of the federal and provincial tax credits. You could actually give approximately $600 to charity, and it really doesn’t cost you a penny. 

And yet it could help a lot of people. Who are you intending to target with this money? 

Well, we’re leaving a lot of that up to individual donors. On our website, people have the option of choosing a charity that’s already there, or if they have one they passionately care about, they can put that one on the site as well. They go through our webmaster to do it. 

A great way to rectify two things. Get rid of your excess $300 and help Canada’s charities, which are suffering so much.– Don Ferguson

We’re trying to stimulate people to give, in general. 

So how’s it going? It’s been just over a week since it started. What’s the response been like? 

I looked this morning. We’ve got $55,000 or $56,000 so far, which is not bad. [Editor’s note: Since this interview aired, the amount of money raised has risen to more than $65,000]

We’ve been emailing people on our mailing lists and saying, “Here’s our idea. Why don’t you do it?” The response has been terrific so far. We’re just trying to get the word out now — generally — that seniorsgivingback.org is a great way to rectify two things. Get rid of your excess $300 and help Canada’s charities, which are suffering so much. 

WATCH | Imagine Canada president says charity sector struggling to stay afloat:

Imagine Canada president Bruce MacDonald says the sector needs a total of $10 billion in support from government to survive the pandemic. 6:11

Do you think that every senior should have been given the $300? Would it have been better to just spend it on targeting exact needy people? 

That I don’t know. The thing I like about what happened is … there’s two things. One is that the government got the money out the door — which I think generally people have been pretty happy with in Canada — into people’s hands. And I think there are people who are getting that money, who definitely need it. I mean, there’s a lot of people who’ve been hurt very badly. There are seniors, for instance, who work part time at McDonald’s or at some fast food restaurant or something, and they’ve all lost that source of income. So those people need the money. And I think it’s good for them to let individual Canadians decide where they want the money to go. 

What’s been your best coping mechanism for living through this pandemic? 

Oh, my gosh. It’s been so tough for everybody. I was going to be flippant and say,  “alcohol.” But that’s not true. I’ve been doing a lot of reading, actually. Spending a lot of time with family. We have a granddaughter, and we’ve recently bubbled with my daughter and her husband and our granddaughter. My wife and I spend quite a bit of time babysitting because both my daughter and her husband work. 

Are you able to find any humour in this situation? Have you been able to actually find some fodder for comedy in the future? 

Well, it’s been very tough, I’ll be honest with you. There seems to be at the moment so much going on in our world that is very, very, very disturbing. 

We’re living through a time of incredible turbulence and change, whether it’s our relationship with China or trying to demystify what’s going on south of the border, coping with COVID, unemployment. It just goes on and on. And it seems like every time we get a bit of good news, it’s followed by some more bad news.

WATCH | The legacy of The Royal Canadian Air Farce:

Interview with Don Ferguson, a Farce founder, who talks about the launch of a new memoir that’s full of anecdotes and never-before-seen photos. 3:59

There’s also been a lot of good, as you say, people are giving. In some way, this pandemic has shown the good side of people as well. 

Yes, it’s brought out the good in a lot of people. I find there’s been a tremendous amount of added kindness. People who normally would ignore you, or you would ignore — people actually look at each other on the street and sort of nod, and say hello or smile through their mask. 

It’s give us a chance to get back to maybe what’s important.

Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Ines Colabrese and Samira Mohyeddin. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

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