2021 Champions of Charity
Dealers from across Canada continue to do what they do best: remain resilient in the face of difficult situations, and continue to give back to those in need.
December 24, 2021
By Carina Ockedahl
While 2021 brought looser pandemic-related restrictions for many dealerships across Canada, global microchip shortage and vehicle supply and delivery challenges continue to impact the automotive industry. Still, dealers across Canada continue to give back to their communities during these unprecedented times, finding ways to organize new projects and fundraise for charitable initiatives while adhering to safety protocols. Canadian auto dealer reached out to a few dealers from across the nation to share their stories, which are by no means representative of all regions and dealerships. We offer a snapshot of what some dealers are able to accomplish, even during periods of crisis.
Our first call was to second-generation dealer John Howard, Chief Operating Officer for Capital Auto Group in St. John’s, NL, who said many of the dealership’s commitments are towards supporting health care and wellness in the province. They launched a campaign in early 2019 with a commitment to raise $400,000 for the Health Care Foundation in St. Johns, and reached that total in April 2021 with a final $100,000 payment. The money was used to purchase two next-generation, state-of-the-art cardiac ultrasound machines for the hospital. “Cardiac care is huge here in Newfoundland, with regards to very high rates of cardiac issues, kind of per capita,” said Howard. “These are brand new machines, the first ever in the province, and they provide detailed images that aid in the diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up of patients with any suspected or known heart disease.”
The dealership also donated six BMW ride-on-cars to the Janeway Children’s Hospital Foundation to help transport children to and from surgery within the hospital, rather than using a wheelchair. The goal is to reduce the child’s anxiety. “Anytime we can do something to help out the Janeway foundation, we certainly step up,” said Howard, adding that they also donated $10,000 to the hospital as part of the Janeway telethon for advancing newborn care in the province.
Asked about the influence his father, Frank Howard, had on him and the dealership when it comes to giving back to those in need, he said his father always wanted to give back but often worked behind the scenes. “He never wanted any recognition for anything that he did—he’s kind of always flying under the radar,” said Howard. As an example, he said his father typically buys a number of turkeys for the holiday period at The Gathering Place, so those in need can experience the warm tradition of a turkey dinner together. Frank Howard, President of Capital Auto Group, said that helping those less fortunate drives him more than anything else at this stage of his career.
“In 2021, COVID-19 has driven us to help meet the new demand of people in our community,” said Howard, in response to an inquiry from Canadian auto dealer. “Groups like The Gathering Place have since been expanding its programming to deliver more food to their members, helping them become more independent in the community.” Looking forward, he said the group will continue its commitment with holiday turkeys, food, and supplies needed in the colder months ahead. “It feels absolutely wonderful to make a difference in the lives of so many and we’re dedicated to ensuring the Capital Auto Group continues this support for many years to come,” said Howard.
Prince Edward Island
In Prince Edward Island, Warren Ellis, President of Summerside Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram said they just completed their 13th year in helping the Prince County Hospital Foundation through an event called Grass Roots & Cowboy Boots. The Ellis family, through Summerside Chrysler Dodge, donated a Jeep Wrangler Sport as part of the Grass Roots Drive Thru Dinner and Jeep Draw. Event ticket holders ran the chance of winning the Jeep, and also received a take-out meal. Asked why giving back to the hospital is so important, Ellis said he was taken to Prince County Hospital following a car accident when he was younger. He said they took good care of him, and that the hospital is important to the community.
“In later years, their key local lawyer, who was on the foundation board at the hospital, asked me to join the board and see if I had any new ideas for raising money,” said Ellis, who had previously fundraised in O’Leary and came up with the idea of a steak and lobster meal. That idea was brought to the hospital foundation board and eventually became a reality. “And so we’ve just completed our 13th year and raised approximately $12 million” in total for medical equipment, said Ellis, adding that for 2021 they raised $2.28 million. He said the hospital is a vital part of the community, and that when he was on the board “everybody tried to come up with ideas on how to raise money.” The funds are used for equipment, such as for CT scans, ultrasounds, digital mammography equipment, and more.
The dealership also sponsors a number of sports teams and other events, including Team Snow Curling, the Athena school playground, the CBWA (Cascumpec Bay Watershed Association) Boat Poker Run, and more.
In La Belle Province, the Decarie Motors Jaguar Land Rover dealership, which celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2021, continues to give back to the Montreal, Que., community. In 2019, it established the Women Who Drive Scholarship at the John Molson School of Management at Concordia University, as part of a five-year initiative that continues to play out. Under the initiative, the tuition fees of “exceptional women” studying in programs related to entrepreneurship, finance, or business technology are covered. “As we look to the future, women are a growing part of our clientele,” said Decarie Motors General Manager Cheryl Blas-Segal in a news release. “For us, it is essential to offer support and new possibilities to ambitious young Montrealers who dream of embarking on a career in entrepreneurship and launching their own forward-thinking business.”
Around International Women’s Day, the NewRoads Automotive Group in Newmarket brought together their “women in business community” to highlight the work they did for the community in the face of COVID-19. The full amount of all ticket sales went to support the Women’s Centre of York Region, a local charity that supports women and their families experiencing domestic violence. “These funds were very timely and gave the WCYR the ability to purchase technology for their clients,” said Kelly Broome, Community Relations Manager for NewRoads Automotive Group. “COVID-19 saw a global increase of over 20 per cent in domestic violence and created the perfect storm for women and families now trapped with their abusers.” She said technology such as laptops, tablets, and cell phones “provided a lifeline” for many women and their families to receive support during the pandemic.
Toronto’s Somerville Hino and the entire Somerville Auto Group across Canada raised funds, awareness, and participated in the Ally Global Foundation’s Move for Freedom event as part of its charitable initiative this year. The annual fundraising event, which took place in August, aims to prevent human trafficking and support the recovery of human trafficking survivors. Due to COVID, members of the Somerville team participated with friends and family in their communities, creating videos and sharing their experience with the entire team to bring everyone together.
“With over $12,000 raised by the Somerville team, we were able to support the Ally Global Foundation by providing funds for survivors of human trafficking to create safe houses and prevent human trafficking through education and awareness programs,” said the dealership in a statement to Canadian auto dealer. Another dealership in Toronto, Toyota on the Park, launched their charitable efforts in 2021 with the adoption of a horse named Lewis. Lewis is a horse at Sari Therapeutic that helps children and young adults with special needs grow physically and socially, through specialized horseback riding.
The dealership also launched a test drive for charity campaign in July to support the expansion of the emergency department at North York General Hospital, and donated $25 for every test drive. Toyota on the Park raised $2,500 and then matched the donation, boosting it to $5,000. Toronto’s Williamson Chrysler shared a story that started in 2014, when they launched the Care-a-van, described by the dealership as a “punny take on the Dodge Caravan that cares for the local food bank.” Starting small, the dealership teamed up with a couple of local businesses and collected non-perishable donations at each of its locations. “Fast forward seven years later, and we have successfully completed multiple month-long Care-a-van campaigns, complete with digital advertising and digital donations to support our local food drive when they need it the most!” said Williamson Chrysler.
They describe the 2021 Care-a-van as their biggest involvement so far, with 20 local businesses getting involved to host the Care-a-van around town, collecting non-perishable and monetary donations for the month of June. The dealership raised more than $15,000 and collected more than 100 boxes of non-perishable items.
In the Durham Region of Ontario, several dealerships worked together over the past decade, paving the way for a unique twist to their charitable efforts. Putting competition aside, dealers in the region deliberately worked together to raise funds for regional health care—with more than $1.2 million aimed at supporting patient care initiatives in Whitby and Oshawa through Lakeridge Health Foundation. “We have to thank those who initially encouraged our dealerships to work together, such as Gus Brown (Gus Brown Buick GMC) and Tony Willson (Ontario Motors Sales),” said Bob Verwey, General Manager for Owasco Volkswagen in Whitby, Ontario.
In the fall of 2020, dealers rallied together for a special annual fundraiser called Drive4Dollars, which involves having each dealership make a donation for each vehicle sold over the course of a week. The most recent Drive 4 Dollars included six new dealerships, bringing the total dealerships involved to 31. More than $36,000 was raised to fund new Smart IV Pumps for the Cancer Centre at Lakeridge Health.
Out West, we connected with two dealers—one of them Trevor Christensen, General Sales Manager at Kaizen Automotive Group—the parent organization of Summit GM Chevrolet GMC Buick in Fort McMurray. This year, Christensen said all the events were cancelled due to the pandemic, which put a damper on their ability to give back in the same way they did pre-COVID. But they continue to give back however they can. “We supported Ribfest as the big event this year. We had some vehicles down there, but in terms of things of significance, I would say it’s been difficult to do more,” said Christensen. “Fort McMurray canceled most (if not) all events up here this year.” That said, the team remains passionate about donating to organizations like Toys for Tots (Canada), which is a Canadian charity based on local partnerships between the Canadian Armed Forces, businesses, and “concerned” citizens that provide toys for children in need.
The group also donates to their local hospital, typically buying a tree to show their support during the holiday period and doing hospital bed races—the latter of which was cancelled this year. The dealership still donated a few grand towards that activity, since it is difficult for the hospital to fundraise at the moment. For the dealership’s employees, Christensen said they typically order toys for the children of staff members. The extra toys, and any non-perishable food items they receive, will go to Toys for Tots and the food bank.
“The other thing we’re doing this year, that’s new, is we’re heading up Operation Christmas Child,” said Christensen. “I’ve always loved Operation Christmas Child with the shoe boxes and putting them together and packing them and sending them out. And I’ve always said that I wanted to be more involved.” Operation Christmas Child is a project from the Samaritan’s Purse that collects shoebox gifts, which are filled with toys, school supplies, and hygiene items, and delivered to children in need around the world.
In Calgary, Paul Valentine, President of Valentine Group, is all about donating and supporting charities that take care of people down on their luck. “We don’t put money into the Philharmonic or the arts as much as we put money into organizations that feed the hungry, the homeless, and women’s emergency shelters,” said Valentine, adding that “this has been our focus for years.” The group’s donations declined in 2020 due to the pandemic, as the dealership had to lay off 75 per cent of its staff. But an increase in business and government programs allowed them to bounce back—and so their donations increased once more.
Valentine said the group donated $25 for every car sold in the month of June to a charity—a coffee shop in downtown Calgary called the Lil E Coffee Cafe that employs people with learning disabilities and Down syndrome. “We did a challenge and we had a pretty good month and raised a few thousand dollars and donated that to Lil E,” said Valentine, adding that “it gives these young people the opportunity to have a job, get a paycheque, dress up for work, interact with the public. So it’s really a great story.”
The group also raises money and donates to a number of other causes throughout the year, such as to The Mustard Seed (which caters to individuals experiencing homelessness and poverty), and volunteering for the Feed the Hungry program at St. Mary’s Cathedral Hall. When asked if he had any parting comments for his fellow dealers across the country, Valentine offered a story. He said his grandfather launched the dealership business around 1946-47, and his father took over in 1953. His father, he said, spent his entire life running a dealership, but he was always active in the community, including taking on numerous unpaid volunteer positions. “His phrase was always that service is the rent we pay to live in this world. So he would never take an excuse that you were too busy to give back,” said Valentine. “Everything I do and everything my family does, it’s based on how he raised us.”