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Two Calgary business donated furniture when they moved, and that started a charity chain reaction that ended up helping cancer patients

Members sit in the conversation area at Wellspring Calgary’s Fountain Court location. The organization provides free non-medical support to people living with any stage of cancer, from diagnosis to post-treatment.

A cascade of generosity in Calgary that started with an unassuming bit of housekeeping ended up improving the lives of hundreds of people living with cancer.

In early 2016, Imperial Oil Ltd. moved its downtown Calgary offices to a new campus on about eight hectares in the city's southeast. Husky Energy Inc., meanwhile, had just renovated its Canadian headquarters. Both companies had unused desks, chairs, bookshelves, filing cabinets, white boards and meeting tables.

"When we have surplus technologies or surplus furniture, we provide in-kind donations," says Michelle Harries, Husky's business manager for community investment.

When Imperial Oil Ltd. moved offices and Husky Energy Inc. renovated its Canadian headquarters in Calgary, both companies had unused desks, chairs, bookshelves, filing cabinets, white boards and meeting tables. They donated these to the Calgary Counselling Centre.

Ms. Harries's thoughts turned to the Calgary Counselling Centre, which she calls "one of the leading non-profits in Calgary."

Founded in 1962, the organization provides affordable, professional counselling to individual adults and youths, couples and families. With almost 60 staff members, the centre had outgrown its location on two floors of a downtown office tower, and had just relocated into a much larger space, in the Kahanoff Centre for Charitable Activities, just south of the Calgary Tower.

Ms. Harries offered Husky's extra furniture to the Counselling Centre. Imperial Oil did the same.

"It was a generous gift and it really helped us out," says Katrina Bradley, the centre's chief development officer. The downside: now the Counselling Centre had to do something with its old furniture.

The Calgary charitable community, fortunately, is small and tightknit.

Wellspring Calgary members participate in an expressive arts class ukelele group, which aims to help with cognitive and physical issues affecting members living with and beyond cancer, or those who just want to have fun. Thanks to partnerships with home furnishing retailers, the client areas, such as this room, had already been made over. The staff and volunteer offices, however, were bare.

Ms. Bradley was having coffee with her friend Suzan Valenta, who is the director of philanthropy for Wellspring Calgary. That organization provides free non-medical support to people living with any stage of cancer, from diagnosis to post-treatment. Wellspring operates out of a facility in the city's northwest. In response to growing demand for its services, it is building a second location in the south. The new facility will not be ready until 2019, so Wellspring was readying a temporary second location in a south-central strip mall.

Ms. Valenta was excited about the new location. Thanks to partnerships with home furnishing retailers, the client areas had already been made over to have "a warm, welcoming second-home kind of feeling for people." The staff and volunteer offices, however, were bare.

It was a light-bulb moment for the Counselling Centre's Ms. Bradley.

A moving company donated a crew and trucks, and the Counselling Centre's old furniture had a new home. (The centre also donated furniture to 14 other community-focused organizations.)

The gift saved Wellspring between $25,000 and $35,000 – a small fortune for an organization that provides its services free of charge and receives no government funding.

After the Calgary Counselling Centre had received office furniture donations, it turned around and donated its office furniture to Wellspring Calgary.

Wellspring welcomes between 500 and 800 new members annually, and has more than 5,000 registered members in total. The organization provides about 45 programs, ranging from education about how to deal with "brain fog" resulting from cancer treatments, to yoga classes and bird-watching strolls along the Bow River.

"It costs $150 for one member to access a month of unlimited resources and support at Wellspring," says Ms. Valenta. "So $25,000 provides access for hundreds of people."

The furniture chain reaction "is such a great example of what I've experienced in the non-profit sector in Calgary during the 17- ish years I've been working in it," she adds.

"Calgary's like a small town in a big city. We've been through ups and downs economically, and a lot of people know each other – so it's almost like you're helping your friends rather than your competitors. I'm proud to be part of this community and network of colleagues. Everyone wants to see everyone else be successful, and they work collaboratively to make that happen."