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This winter, in partnership with six local radio stations, Xplore ran the Rural Connections Contest to award six prizes of $1000 to community organizations across Western Canada.

To nominate a charity, participants were asked to submit a short essay describing the organization, how they make a positive impact in their community and how the prize would benefit them.

A panel of judges chose six winners. Congratulations to Wheatland Crisis Society; Portage Animal Welfare Society (PAWS); Echo Food Rescue; Airdrie 1st Club; Steinbach Family Resource Centre; and Altona and Area Family Resource Centre.

We had the pleasure of speaking to some of the chosen charities about the incredible work they do.

Wheatland Crisis Society

The Wheatland Crisis Society has been serving people impacted by domestic violence in south-central Alberta since 1993.

“We were started by two local women in Strathmore who saw a need for a safe place for people impacted by domestic violence,” explained Natasha Frye who is in charge of fundraising and communications at Wheatland Crisis Society.

The facility is a 21-day stay emergency shelter accepting all people including men, women, nonbinary, and trans individuals.

During their 21-day stay, clients are assigned to a caseworker who provides them with court support, help applying for protection orders when needed, as well as supportive counselling and assistance finding transition or permanent housing.

“Our service area for the shelter goes from Red Deer to Vulcan and then from Calgary to Brooks. If we have room for people coming from other places, we will make accommodations,” Natasha said.

Natasha was commuting to Calgary for work from her farm outside of Strathmore. She decided to apply at Wheatland Crisis Society to get more involved in her community.

“I get to work in my own backyard, with people that I know, with my neighbours and I’m giving back to my community,” she said.

Natasha is actually an Xplore customer, which is how she initially heard about the Rural Connections Contest.

“I follow you guys on social media and saw it come up there. I didn’t nominate us, somebody else did so that’s even better,” she said.

The radio station called her while she was in her car on the way to work to inform her that the Wheatland Crisis Society had won.

“It was a great surprise. I definitely didn’t see that coming. When I got to work, I let everyone know and we were thrilled to win the contest. It feels good to see that members of the community notice how hard we work to help the people in the community,” she said.

From April 1st to December 31st, their shelter and counselling programs helped over 200 people and their staff spent 33,586 minutes assisting people on their shelter’s crisis line.

Natasha says that the extra $1000 goes a long way.

“Any extra money we get goes to comfort and care. Most of the time people flee with nothing so we provide everything they need, PJs, toothbrush, toothpaste, blankets, food, winter clothing for their children and school supplies. That’s where the money went. Right back to the shelter and clients,” she said.

She said that the help that the shelter provides to the community makes a tremendous difference in people’s lives.

“You can really see the people they are becoming, opening up, working on their plans. It’s amazing to see the transformation,” she said.

Wheatland Crisis Society’s annual drag show fundraiser in Strathmore is happening in March. Join them for a night of laughs and entertainment and support a great cause! Visit their website at for more information.

Echo Food Rescue

Echo Food Rescue literally “rescues” food that is still perfectly edible but destined to be thrown out from local producers, retailers and restaurants and delivers it back to their community free of charge.

“We started with 120 pounds of food and 36 people and now we’re reclaiming on average 1,500 pounds of food and feeding 250 households a week,” Jana Fafard, Echo Food Rescue volunteer and Vice President of the Echo Lacombe Association said.

Since June, they have reclaimed over 41,000 pounds of food.

That includes broken or defected produce, like bent carrots, leftovers from restaurants, and goods that are at their best before date but still completely edible.

Jana explained that lot of items at their best before date are actually still good, like some dairy which can be good for two weeks after their best before date.

In the last three months, they rescued over 3,000 pounds of carrots from local producers. On average 40% of the carrot crop this year went to waste because they came out of the ground broken or because they were the wrong shape.

Echo Food Rescue’s goal is to reduce the amount of food going to landfills so that they can decrease the amount of greenhouse gases that go back into the environment.

“A lot of people don’t realize that food waste should be composted and not sent to landfills. When it’s sent to landfills it actually releases greenhouse gases,” Jana said.

Aside from offering available food to anyone in the community that will use it, they provide food to a local youth life skills program, as well food for a weekly community dinner at a nearby senior's facility. They also support local schools with snacks, breakfast, and lunch foods.

“We didn’t know where it was going to go. It’s kind of just built itself. We are lucky to have incredible community source in both our sponsors and our volunteers as well,” Jana said.

One of their volunteers nominated them for the Rural Connections Contest and Jana says that the prize money will go a long way.

“$1,000 will fuel our van for 4 months which will allow us to do incredible things,” she said.

To learn more about Echo Food Rescue visit

Food collection fundraiser

Portage Animal Welfare Society (PAWS)

Portage Animal Welfare Society’s (PAWS) mission is to improve the quality of life for stray or abandoned companion animals.

“We focus on rescuing from the pound when they can’t find the owners. Cats get picked up and more often than not they don’t get claimed,” Elaine Verwey, one of PAWS’ Cat Program Coordinators explained.

PAWS is a non-profit charitable organization 100% operated by volunteers.

As you can imagine, their main clientele are cats and dogs. The rescued cats reside at the shelter until they are adopted, and the dogs are placed in foster homes.

PAWS has been an all-hands-on-deck organization since they started in 2005. The entire operation was run without a building until 2014 when they opened their shelter in Portage La Prairie’s old pound facility.

“It’s old and small and falling apart so we have been fundraising for a new building,” Elaine said.

This new building is being constructed on the land behind the current shelter and after about 2.5 years of work, it is almost ready for them to move in.

“It will be a vast improvement for the animals and volunteers,” Elaine said.

Before PAWS opened its doors, the community saw a high rate of euthanasia.

Now, Animal Control will inform PAWS or look for other rescue organizations if PAWS can’t take the pet. Organizations like PAWS are literally saving lives.

PAWS depends on donations so winning the Rural Connections Contest was a big deal to them.

Kathi, a volunteer at the shelter, entered PAWS into the contest. When the radio station called Kathi to inform her they had won, she was over the moon.

“I was so excited you would think I won $100,000 for the animals,” she said.

Elaine had a similar reaction.

“It was such a surprise! I understood it was right across western Canada. I imagine there were many entries so it’s a real honour. Coming at a time when we’re trying to finish this building it’s perfect,” Elaine said.

In May of last year, PAWS started a low-cost spay and neuter program geared to low-income residents. Cats can get fixed and vaccinated for the low price of $75.

“Vetting can be so expensive for lower income people and they need their pets fixed as well,” Elaine said.

Being that PAWS is quite rural, there are lots of stray animals but not as many adopters. Like many communities in Manitoba, PAWS will actually send animals to other provinces with people willing to adopt, or shelters with more space to house homeless pets.

“I just sent a cat to Ottawa. A rescue said they had room for them and so it worked out. Then I follow their page and see what happens and who adopts. It’s fun to see them in happy homes and out of this cold,” Elaine explained.

Elaine lives 4 miles east of Portage la Prairie and is actually an Xplore customer!

“Phone calls are very seldom, so I use Xplore for communication with volunteers and board members, and to post on Facebook and our website,” she said.

Elaine uses PAWS’ Facebook and website to notify the community of animals in need of homes. And, her Internet comes in handy to check what cats have been brought to the pound on a given day and are in need of rescuing.

“It’s been really good. We are in the country and first had dial up which was awful and then we got a stick, which wasn’t all that great either. So finally, we got Xplore. I used to lose connection or couldn’t connect to begin with and since getting Xplore we don’t have any of those problems anymore,” she said.

You can follow PAWS on Facebook here to see what animals are available for adoption. Keep an eye out for their next “adoptathon” open house! And, visit their website at

Kathi Ryshak standing in front of a new shelter

Airdrie 1st Club

The Airdrie 1st Club has been around since 1977, originally a “Lioness” club with the goal of fundraising for the community and giving back.

The Airdrie Food Bank, Airdrie Public Library, school playground equipment, seniors centres and local refugee families are just some examples of the many worthy causes that receive funds from the incredible fundraising efforts of the Airdrie 1st Club.

The program that they are most known for in the community is their holiday hamper program.

Over their 46 years, the program has grown and as of 2022, they had a budget of $95,000 to provide Airdrie and Rocky View County’s qualifying families with hampers including grocery store gift cards, toys and fresh produce during the holiday season.

“Together we try to reach as many people as possible. It’s quite emotional for our members,” Sharon, Airdrie 1st Club’s Treasurer said.

The volunteers who screen participants hear the moving backstories of their diverse clients.

“Some are people who have lost their job, lost a partner to illness, people who are fleeing domestic violence, seniors, or young people who can’t find affordable housing,” Sharon said.

This year Airdrie 1st Club prepared 370 hampers for the community. Through the generosity of the community, they receive a lot of toys donated at Christmas and once the hampers are filled, they use the rest to stock the Food Bank’s Toy Closet.

“Our program wouldn’t be as successful if it wasn’t for the support from the Airdrie community. They fund us and fill those hampers,” Sharon said.

She nominated Airdrie 1st Club for the Rural Connections Contest after hearing about the contest on the radio.

“When the radio station called, I thought, this is fabulous. It will go a long way to support a couple of families this year,” she said.

Sharon said that with the economy the way it is, there is a real need for the hamper program.

“When the cost of living goes up and income doesn’t, some people don’t even have enough to cover groceries andoher essentials . We always ask if there is anything in particular that they need and one lady said toilet paper. Imagine having to choose between food, paying a bill and toilet paper.”

One community member who received a basket had left a domestic violence situation. “She said that when she first got out of the situation, she receivec a hamper and it helped her take that step up. That’s why we’re here, just a step up to get back on your feet again,” Sharon said.

Helen, President of the Airdrie 1st Club, also commented on the great need in the community and expressed her joy in winning the Rural Connections Contest.

“For us, $1000 is two families who will get a hamper who might not have got one otherwise.”

To find out more about the great work that the Airdrie 1st Club is doing, visit them online at

Steinbach Family Resource Centre

Steinbach Family Resource Centre was founded 23 years ago to offer free support to families through pregnancy and postpartum.

“Once families enter the school system, they have a myriad of support but we found people needed more support in the early childhood realm. We offer family groups, education and support to help parents from pregnancy all the way to kindergarten,” Steinbach Family Resource Centre Executive Director Jo-Anne Dalton said.

The centre runs a different program for every age range including pregnancy, 0-6 months, 6-18 months, 18 to 36 months and 3-5 years. Programs cover topics like starting solids, picky eating, potty training, first steps, motor development, literacy, numeracy and more. These programs run all year long every week or every other week.

They even have a registered dietitian on staff to help families with more complex nutritional needs, or more complex food-related medical or behavioural issues.

“We help them overcome barriers and issues to help babies develop a healthy relationship with food,” Jo-Anne explained.

They have specialty groups that run for 5-6 weeks at a time geared specifically to certain situations or outcomes. One example is their postpartum group, which is recommended when babies are up to 6 months old. This group is meant for discussing challenges, managing expectations and sharing personal experiences.

"Sharing with other people is one of the main things that helps to prevent postpartum depression,” Jo-Anne said.

Their Nobody’s Perfect parenting group for families with kids under five is another great avenue for relationship building for new parents.

All the topics are chosen by the families so that the facilitators can help with issues that are prevalent in participant’s lives. Things like mental health post-Covid, social and economic struggles, single parenting, co-parenting, blended families and overcoming domestic violence.

“Any challenges they are trying to overcome to build healthy environments for their children,” Jo-Anne said.

In the summer, they also have fun activities for school age children like their “Kids in the Kitchen” and “Kids in the Garden” programs.

The centre’s doors are open to anyone but many of their clientele are families with limited incomes. With this in mind, the centre also prepares to provide items for these families to take home.

“Families who are pregnant and nursing can access milk and eggs. We have clothing for children 0-5 and donated items like diapers and wipes are often available,” Jo-Anne said.

They often have fresh produce and other food items available and every summer they do a school supplies drive, which this year filled backpacks for 250 children.

Although these resources are invaluable for the families that visit the centre, Jo-Anne also notes the importance of the relationships that are forged there.

“People overcome challenges in community in genuine relationships with other people. A lot of them are rural and low income and so they don’t have the opportunity to go out and connect with other parents, especially because many activities have fees attached to them,” she said.

Being an expert in the field of early childhood development, Jo-Anne commonly answers questions on the fly for the local radio station’s programming. One Friday, busy preparing for a day of meetings, she got a surprise call from them.

“I picked up the phone and said I don’t have a lot of brain energy for you today so I hope it’s not a hard question. She laughed and said actually I have really good news for you. We had won the contest. It was a very pleasant surprise that day,” she said.

They were nominated by one of the families who has been a participant all the way from pregnancy to kindergarten.

“We’re never 100% sure where the money is going to come from. This will offer us a little bit of relief and just the knowledge that what we’re doing in the community is being noticed means a lot,” Jo-Anne said.

As of mid-December 2022, the Steinbach Family Resource Centre had supported 519 families each with an estimated 1-9 children.

Visit them online at

Stainback family resource centre