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Photos courtesy of United Way Ottawa.

Community Builders: Costco helps local kids be all that they can be

By United Way East Ontario on August 6, 2019

Samantha Pope is one of Apt613’s correspondents at United Way Ottawa. With its Community Builder Award program, United Way Ottawa honours Ottawa’s outstanding volunteers: the organizations, partnerships, agencies, neighbourhood groups and individuals who work tirelessly to make our city a better place for everyone.

Though the company has given millions of dollars to support local families and children, Costco Wholesale likes to work under the radar.

“We simply believe that we got to do what’s right, because it’s the right thing to do,” said Ron Damiani, Costco’s vice-president marketing, membership, services and travel. “We don’t do press conferences [and] we are not looking for the attention of our members.”

As an employee of Costco for over 24 years, he said a defining aspect of the company and its employees is their commitment and philosophy of giving back to the community.

This philosophy, along with a passion for helping local children, exemplifies what United Way Ottawa’s All That Kids Can Be award seeks to celebrate: a person or organization who is working to improve conditions for Ottawa’s children and youth.

That’s why on May 16, 2019, it was no surprise that Costco received this award at United Way’s Community Builder of the Year Awards Gala. As Ron explained, Costco and its employees have helped local children with their health, welfare, education and much more.

Over the company’s history, Costco and its employees have donated more than $6.2 million to support children and their families in our city. Costco has also given more than $17 million to the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, as well as giving the largest gift ever made through an Ottawa telethon to support children’s medical care.

“Locally, one of the most interesting rallying points is the work we do for CHEO in the month of May,” Ron said. “Many of our employees are involved and they dress up, they dress down, they have cowbells and all sorts of activities.”

Ottawa’s annual HOPE volleyball tournament also welcomes many Costco employees. In 2018, Costco submitted six teams and raised awareness for families of children diagnosed within the autism spectrum disorders, through their support of Children at Risk Ottawa.

Ron added there are also employees within the company who are involved in reading mentorship programs, where they commit to teaching children how to read, write, and do math over the course of 15 weeks. Costco pays their employees a good working wage, Ron said, with the expectation that they give back to their community.

“We built this entire business, 37,000 employees in Canada, through word of mouth. We built it through doing good deeds,” Ron said. “So our approach, when it comes to philanthropy, is basically the same thing.”

Costco’s Ron Damiani

After Ottawa’s beloved ‘Butterfly Child’ Jonathan Pitre died in April 2018, Costco also made a massive donation in his honour. The company gave a record-breaking $100,000 donation to DEBRA Canada to help children afflicted with epidermolysis bullosa, the same condition Jonathan had.

“Most people know of someone in a dire situation with a child,” Ron said. He added that having empathy and wanting to help makes a big difference.

“We are honoured to receive this award,” he said. “But for us, it’s not about Costco itself. It’s about 37,000 hearts and minds and pairs of hands that are out there working every day, every month to support their local communities.”

Through research, evaluation and partnerships with community experts, United Way Ottawa identifies the root causes of the biggest social challenges facing our community, and helps find solutions that change tens of thousands of lives for the better. 100 per cent of donations stay in Ottawa to help those most in need.