The 3rd annual Butterfly Release fundraiser is coming back after a COVID hiatus. The event was last held in 2019 as a way to honour the late Gaëtan Serré for his many contributions to West Nipissing, and to help raise funds for the Horizon Women’s Centre, of which Serré was a founder. While it was formerly held at the Minnehaha Bay amphitheatre, this year the event will take place at the Sturgeon River House museum on July 13th. Organizers are still selling butterflies for anyone who wishes to participate and release one in memory of a loved one.
“We started this fundraiser after my dad passed away. He passed away in 2017 and the first one we did was in 2018. We called it the Gaëtan Serré Butterfly Release because my dad did a lot for the community,” describes Lynne Gervais, who organized the first event with her mother Jeannine Serré. The funds raised initially went to help Horizon Centre run their community soup kitchen. However, following COVID shutdowns and due to strict restrictions, the soup kitchen was shut down.
Linda Lafantaisie, Executive Director at Horizon, says that shutdown may be permanent. “Not right now, absolutely not, because I am so understaffed. And, because it’s been 3 years, I would have to re-organize everything,” she says when asked about the community kitchen returning. Lafantaisie says that after 3 years, not only would she need brand new volunteers, but she would also need specifically trained ones like kitchen managers. That is no small feat considering how many other local organisations are hurting for volunteers of their own. With that said, she does recognize that there is a need for a community kitchen that she has a project in the works to use the leftover funds from the Horizon Centre’s community kitchen to feed the needy. However, it will have to be a collaborative effort with another agency, and the details are still in the works.
It’s a good thing the Butterfly Release fundraiser is back. As Lafantaisie explains, the Horizon Centre was eligible for grants throughout COVID, but those have now dried-up with the end of the pandemic. The women’s shelter now has to find a way to help just as many women and children, with fewer resources. “Now, the COVID money is done, so now our budgets are all affected because I have to feed 10 people at a time because our capacity is 10 women and children. To feed 10 people in a week, it costs a lot of money,” she explains.
Along with the near-constant lack of funding, she has also had to deal with multitudes of other issues, which she admits are plaguing all of the social service agencies. Rising costs for many essential things like food and gas have made things quite difficult, especially considering that some of the Horizon Centre’s clients must go out of town for medical appointments, court, consultations with their lawyers, and more. The other big struggle has been with staffing. Lafantaisie says that they are now finally at an adequate level, but that it’s not easy to attract workers. She says her last budget increase for staff was roughly 7 years ago, and that her agency is competing with many others for staff.
That said, a fundraiser could not come at a better time. By mid-June, approximately half of the butterflies had been sold. Lafantaisie says that they ordered 300 of them, the same as in 2019. Each one is $30, and all the profits for the event go to the Horizon Women’s Centre. “All of the money goes back to residents and their children. Any needs that they have, and we don’t have [the money] in our budget, so it can be gas, it can be school supplies for the children, it can be clothing because sometimes they flee in the middle of the night, it can be medication or medical needs, anything like that,” explains the director.
“The way it works, you reserve your butterfly, and for every $30 donation you get a butterfly at the release (…). We’ll have live music starting at 6, there will be a few speeches, and then we’ll be handing out butterflies to everybody that donated $30 and we do the release. (…) It should be nice and cozy, next to the river, the flowers at the museum, it should be a really nice family event,” describes Lynne Gervais. Lafantaise mentions that children who attend will also be given a butterfly to release if any remain, or will be asked to release one on behalf of someone who couldn’t attend to do it themselves. Additionally, Lafantaisie will be delivering some butterflies to the Au Chateau and the WN General Hospital so that they can hold their own small event for residents and patients who can’t make it out to the museum.