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Women's Auxiliary volunteers, from left, Ash Sundarajah, Moira MacRae, Pamela Stevens and Michelle Solomon outside SickKids Hospital, where they run a shop which raises money for the hospital's foundation annually, on July 21, 2020.Galit Rodan/The Globe and Mail

The organizers: The Women’s Auxiliary Volunteers at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children

The project: Expanding the 5Fifty5 Shop

The Women’s Auxiliary Volunteers (WAV) has been part of Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children for 70 years and they’ve raised millions of dollars for the SickKids foundation.

The group’s 260 volunteers manage the hospital’s information desk and help out in several clinics. They also run the gift shop, which contributes around $1.5-million annually for the foundation.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit this spring the shop had to close, but the WAV still wanted to find a way to raise money. They set up a task force to figure out how to move the shop online. “We decided that we better adapt or we’re going to lose money,” said Pamela Stevens, the organization’s president.

They got some help from the City of Toronto to develop a website and managed to launch a few weeks ago. The store sells a variety of games, puzzles, toys and clothing, and it has pulled in close to $5,000 so far. The group is hoping to raise as much as possible for the foundation during the pandemic and proceeds will go to the hospital’s building projects, as well as research into image-guided therapy. Over the years, the WAV has funded five research chairs and established four endowment funds. Since 1993, the group has raised more than $18-million in total.

“People think that we’re only these old ladies working in the shop,” Ms. Stevens said. “Wrong. We own it, we operate it, we buy for it, we stock it and we staff it. And we’re so excited that we’re now online.” She’s been involved with the organization for 10 years and some volunteers have been with the group for decades. “We don’t throw galas, we don’t throw fundraisers. We just work hard at the hospital,” she added.

Ms. Stevens said she isn’t sure when the hospital shop will reopen. But at least something good has come from the pandemic. “We were always thinking, ‘We should get online.’ But this has forced us to do it.”