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How one mama grew a small Kelowna Facebook group into a national movement

Shannon Christensen has seen her Mamas for Mamas grow from 32 Facebook friends to 55,000 across the country

KELOWNA - In a world where it can be hard for non-profits to get members, Kelowna’s Mamas for Mamas is finding no shortage either here or across Canada.

It has grown in five years from 32 Facebook mothers to 55,000 members and 54 chapters across Canada, each chapter having a minimum of 500 members.

It all started in the spring of 2014 when Shannon Christensen fell into “emotional poverty” as a mother with two small children with a husband working out of town and no one to exchange baby clothes with or pass along those that had been outgrown.

So, to what does she credit the phenomenal success of her organization.

“Social media,” Christensen told “We were lucky in the sense that the timing was really right for us. This was the first Canadian charity born on social media. We didn’t have any brick and mortar. We didn’t have any programs running.”

How does she know this was the first?

“Because the CRA (Canada Revenue Agency) had such a hard time approving my charitable application,” she said. “I was denied twice as a result of being a social media platform.

“I'm working on solving poverty,” she told the agent. “I’m working on dealing with these poverty related issues. Everything seems to be under the mandate. She (the agent) goes ‘we just didn’t know what to do with you because you’re Facebook. Charities don’t usually start on Facebook. They normally start as a program or a need of some kind, then it goes on social media to share their message.' But we just started a sharing economy for moms where everything is free.”

What started in her garage has expanded to an office and “Karma Market” on Dolphin Avenue where mothers can pick up five free items per family member – or drop off donations.

Mamas for Mamas got its charitable status two years ago and now has an annual budget of about $450,000, up from $16,000 in 2015.

“The idea of this group was to change the language of poverty through 'kindness is currency,'” Christensen said. “I honestly had no idea how quickly it would grow and how fast that idea would take off. I really just wanted to have my full-time job doing trauma counselling and making a good wage and going home at 5 o’clock and leaving my work at work. But the universe had other plans.”

She made that change in October 2017.

Now she’s focused on fundraising, managing eight employees (most are part time), travelling to establish other chapters and coordinating poverty reduction efforts with other agencies in Kelowna, filling the gaps where necessary and trying to avoid duplication.

The organization provided, for example, 321 hours of free trauma counselling last year because some mothers can’t afford the $5 co-share costs charged elsewhere. It finds money to help mothers pay their rent, finds them shelters and offers a variety of other services.

There are other agencies and non-profits throughout the country that do good deeds without such growth.

That growth, again, comes down to social media, both through fundraising efforts (only 10 per cent of its budget comes from grants) and things like Jillian Harris being its “celebrity ambassador.”

Harris is a Canadian television personality currently working on Love It or List It and, according to Christensen, has a million followers on Facebook so a mention of Mamas for Mamas by Harris, gets them a few hundred new friends.

In each of the chapters across Canada there are Resource Coordinators who volunteer their time not only to produce a list of community agencies that can help those in poverty but who also assist those people in finding the best match for their needs.

So, why are so many women willing to devote so much time – some up to 35 hours a week – as volunteers when the trend these days is away from long term volunteer commitments?

“Because it’s social media,” Christensen said, again. “You can do it anywhere. You can do it while you’re nursing your baby or working on your Masters or your degree. Or you’re at your computer 10 hours a day and you want to take two of those hours to contribute back to your community. There’s a very strong collective understanding among moms these days that seems rather new to me of ‘what can I do?’ Instead of ‘what do I need’ it’s ‘what can I do’?”

And, it may simply have to do with the fact that this is mostly about women, who are more open to sharing their feelings and helping each other.

Not to say men aren’t a part of it all.

Three former NHL players are working on a fundraiser and Mamas for Mamas and the organization has jumped in the help a father after his wife – a Mamas member – died shortly after childbirth.

Despite the phenomenal growth, Christensen doesn’t see it slowing down any time soon.

Asked where she expected to be in another five years, she had no hesitation in answering.

“If it’s up to me, we’ll have one of these (office and Karma Centre) in every province in five years. If it’s up to me, we’ll have over a million women as part of this movement in five years. If it’s up to me, I’ll be lobbying the federal government to make real poverty reduction happen.”

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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