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Mamas for Mamas is a registered national charity doing invaluable work supporting mamas with vital programs and resources for a Hand Up. As mamas ourselves, we know that it does take a village, but the reality of our society is that village doesn’t exist for many and there is a huge gap in real programs and resources to help support these young families. 

We're so proud to partner with Mamas for Mamas this April supporting mamas that are in need of a hand up this Spring. Now more than ever, families that are struggling need the support of their communities. 

In honour of Mother's Day, we've donated hundreds of packs of our Grain Free Granola to Mamas for Mamas Markets. Help us donate more to get nourishing snacks where they are needed.  

For every item sold on Rawcology.com from April 19th to May 3rd, we will donate the same item to Mamas for Mamas. 

Read below for our interview with Shannon Christensen, Founder of Mamas for Mamas. 

 

We are honoured to have a moment with the Mamas for Mamas team to hear more about their story, the many activations they have to support mamas across the country, their incredible farm, and why the effects of Covid 19 mean they need our support more than ever.

Mamas for Mamas is a widely recognized community and charity, can you take us back to how it began and some of the 'Why' behind it all? 

I started Mamas for Mamas in 2014 out of a personal need to create a sense of belonging for me as a new mother. I had my first son, James when I was 23 and struggled with a fun combo of postpartum depression and intense grief as my father had died unexpectedly the year before. My son was 6.5 weeks early and I felt so alone as a mother, let alone as a mother of a premie baby and no friend with whom to share the experience. It was after the birth of my second son at 26 that I started to really feel the pull to create more of a community for mamas where competition wasn’t the primary focus of our interactions. I needed somewhere to belong and mommy and me circle at the library was definitely not it.

I had just completed my masters degree in forensic psychology and was ready to get to work, but I still had a gaping hole in my heart. I spoke with my maternal Nana who was instrumental in building the Motherless Babies home in Lagos in the 1970’s. She encouraged me to build a group, to reach out to other mamas because “they probably need this as much as you Shan... they just don’t know where to start”. Much like everything else she told me in the 34 years I has her by my side, she was right. I started a Facebook group in April 2014 and Called it Mamas for Mamas. I gave away everything I no longer needed or wanted for my boys and only asked for Kindness as the currency, no money was ever to exchange hands if we were going to change the currently buy/sell, compete and demoralize kind of culture of motherhood I had experience to date. As I started my career as a sexual assault trauma counsellor and ran this new little page of mine, I soon realized this community where Kindness was Currency was much more than the side project I had anticipated. It was a movement where I was going to make damn sure no mama or child was left behind. After a short 3 year career as a trauma counsellor, I quit my job to volunteer full time to get Mamas off the ground. The rest is her-story.

What are things that people might not know about the poverty gap many mamas are facing? How and what can we do to help support your efforts? 

A huge percentage of single parents and families face barriers to accessing poverty relief support from the existing agencies as a result of being slightly beyond the “income cutoff” that determines poverty levels in Canada. There are also significant barriers to accessing supports and services for those who do not have ID, or who have to replace their ID and can not afford the expense. There is a general rule that government funded agencies can only provide poverty relief support to individuals of families that make under $42,500 per year. For reference, based on the cost of living in Kelowna the poverty line is actually closer to $70,000 for a family of 4. The gap between those who receive government support and those who need poverty relief represent the invisible poor, once again marginalized and prevented from finding solutions to move beyond their situation of chronically struggling to make ends meet.   The long term effects of this kind of chronic stress negatively impact the nervous system and the overall mental health of the mamas and their kids as they are forced to live in a state of unrelenting fight or flight. As mothers, I knew we could find a better way. Mamas for Mamas helps all caregivers and families who need support in accessing and maintaining access to having their basic needs met.   We recognize that much like every family’s composition is unique, so too are their needs and no case can be solved with a blanket rule approach. This is one of the reasons community based fundraising for Mamas for Mamas is so central to the support we provide, these are funds raised BY the community FOR the community and don’t have a barrier to staying within the government mandated poverty lines. It is because of partners like you that allow us to say yes when everyone else has said no. This allow allows Mamas for Mamas to provide preventative programs that are deemed unnecessary by the government as reactive strategies are the only ones considered effective at that level. Speaking specifically to system change, preventing a mama from being a victim of domestic violence by providing her with access to our court support/family victim service worker greatly improves her wellbeing as she was able to get support for an unsafe relationship before it escalated to violence. The police and victim service agencies are unable to provide assistance unless they’re responding to a crime or putting together a safety plan.  

We can do better. What can the community do to help? We, as a society, need to re-train our thought process around what it means to be living in poverty. We need to recognize that NO mama of family would choose suffering over solutions if they had a choice, no mama or family would ask to stand in a line up to pay for her box of food with her dignity, no mama would tell her child no to going to a birthday party because she couldn’t afford the gift. These mamas have not chosen the situation they’re in, but you can choose to help her out of it.

We also need to accept that prevention is key. The outcome measures aren’t nearly as sexy as showing how intervention solves the impact of a crime or complete financial destitution, but I’ll tell you right now they’re a heck of a lot more permanent and a lot more beneficial to the family who didn’t have to face injury or economic devastation before finding a solution. How? Assume the best, if a Mama is on social assistance there is a reason for it. Assume that they are doing their very best every day, and when given the opportunity to pass judgement or pass on a word of encouragement... in a nutshell, when in doubt as a society we need to choose kindness.

Can you tell us more about the programs you have and the wonderful farm in BC?

Our at-risk program provides comprehensive 1-1 resource navigation and accessibility for mamas, papas and families facing various levels of poverty. We have a registered social worker who does all of the triaging for families in need and then refers to external programs as well as internal programs. The Karma market is a full service clothing and household store that families can book into for a shop and access the material items they need to complement the resource support they’re receiving from the other aspect of the at-risk program. Within the Karma Market we have a birthday party program where families can access gifts for their kids who have birthdays but also to kids who are invited to birthday parties and otherwise wouldn’t be able to attend without a gift. We also provide all baby equipment, maternity items and anything else for babies including formula, diapers and breastfeeding equipment. Beyond the material support offered through the at risk program, we have 2 subprograms that provide direct support to high- risk families needing emergency dental and or Deaf and Hard of Hearing assistance. We offer prevention and intervention based support through our Family Court Support Worker who aids families in need of victim services support, affidavit writing for family law issues, separations and domestic violence issues. Domestic violence has increased by over 70% since the onset of COVID-19 and we are so grateful to have had this program in place as it has ensured the safety and security of dozens of mamas and their kids. We have an in house mental health department as accessing timely and appropriate mental health services is a chronic issues in many if not all communities. We also have a trauma counsellor who specializes in PTSD and a general counsellor who provides pregnancy and infant loss counselling, postpartum support and other anxiety and depression support such as online groups. We do not operate on a sliding scale as the majority of the mamas and papas who access our counselling program can not even afford a small co-pay. The only exemption to this is when they have CVAP funding, but this is never a requirement and does not denote their place on the waiting list.

Our farm is such a special spot for our Okanagan branch. We first started using this piece of land to grow fresh produce for our families within our community, and to this day continue to pay our lease with some of our chicken eggs (which then get donated back to our local food bank). This is also a spot where moms come together to bond, and ground themselves through dirt therapy. On our farm families are able to come down and volunteer by planting, weeding, and harvesting fresh produce, then are able to bring some of the fresh harvested food home for their families. Last year alone our farm produced 38,000 pounds of fresh food that went directly into the hands of our mamas at zero cost to them (except maybe some hours harvesting on the farm!) and over 20,000 eggs went to families facing food insecurity. Our goal is to provide sustainable nourishment opportunities to single mamas, papas and families who need a hand up out of chronic food insecurity while paying very little for the infrastructure so we can continue to scale this operation while maintaining the same or less administrative overhead costs. This program doesn’t just provide families with food security, it provides healthy food that will last a long time versus what is normally available at food banks.

We love hearing that you have branches now all over the country providing this vital support – where can people learn more about helping in their local community?

Every community needs a Mamas for Mamas, it is so much more than a charity, we are a community. Mamas is a movement of caregivers looking after each other with a registered charitable safety net to fill the gaps in available resources. We offer specialized resource navigation, something so basic and common sense...but simply unavailable in 99% of communities. Knowing which resources are available to you as a mama or papa in certain situations allows for time sensitive and culturally appropriate interventions to be provided before the family falls through the cracks. This is especially true when the local branches have registered social workers as navigators, something we are seeing more and more as we grow into various rural and urban areas.

If, and often when, local community resources present with gaps in available services, Mamas programs fill the gaps with our in house poverty relief programs. It is this kind of client centered, grassroots connection to our communities across Canada that allow us to offer a long term hand up, not just a hand out or a temporary band-aid to the situation. You can find more information about our different branches as well as our programs and supports online at
https://www.mamasformamas.org/

On a personal note - what is your most important "sacred" part of the day routine and what does it involve to keep you feeling your best?

The most important sacred part of my daily routine is when I am cooking. I show love to myself by taking time our of my busy schedule to prepare food slowly. I like to savour the smell of the freshly sliced veggies as they sit perched on the wooden cutting board waiting for their delicious destiny. I love the feeling of seeing a bunch of random ingredients and turning it into something that will nourish and delight my loved ones. I will put on some of my favourite music, pour a glass of my favourite red wine or bubbly water and turn my love into nourishment for the hearts and tummies around my dinner table.

The last year has had a lot of ups and downs, what is keeping you positive and inspired in your personal life and in the work your doing with Mamas for Mamas?

The Mamas for Mamas team and their passion for the work we do has kept me going. Hands down the most inspiring part of the last year was seeing this team come together in every way imaginable. Regardless if we were working remotely, in small bubbles or on the farm we were in this together and that was very clear. The world started to turn on each other and it was incredibly sad to see, but is the Mamas for Mamas culture was a social microcosm of the rest of society we would all be living the dream.

 

Mamas for Mamas is working to tackle poverty, make a big impact and create a meaningful community for mamas and families in crisis. Thank you to their team for all they do and we're so happy to do what we can to support. 

For more ways to support Mamas for Mamas, see the links below to donate, volunteer and support communities throughout Canada. 

 

About Mamas for Mamas 

Join the Movement - Volunteer 

Ways to Give 

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