MEOW Foundation was founded in 2000 by 11 passionate volunteers, brought together by their concern for the welfare of stray and abandoned cats in Calgary. Ever since our founding 22 years ago, we have consistently found support from our generous community.
For all charitable groups that rely on the generosity of the public, there is fierce competition for donations. While donations have always been the lifeblood of the organization – about half of our revenue currently comes from them! – MEOW knew from the beginning that we would have to get some cash flow from alternate sources if we were going to have longevity.
One thing that makes MEOW unique in the local charity landscape is that we sell a huge variety of handmade goods at markets in and around Calgary. All of this merchandise is made possible thanks to our dedicated crafting volunteers. Our presence at markets is not only a great way to raise funds, but also allows us to connect with people who may not have otherwise known about us.
This year, we will have almost 40 market days, including some with multiple markets on the same day! But it wasn’t always this way. It has been a journey from a few small markets here and there to such a busy schedule. Our market activity started off very small and was nothing like what we see today.
How Did We Get Here?
In the early days of MEOW, board members and other volunteers held frequent large garage sales throughout the summer in Calgary. They took place in volunteers’ yards and smaller community centers and featured secondhand items as well as MEOW-made cat beds and toys. These sales became a great revenue stream and a fundraising activity that was unique to MEOW. At one point we even sub-leased a space as a pop-up shop (in fact, the success of this pop-up paved the way for MEOW Charity Thrift Shop)!
Seeing that these sales had potential to make a big difference for the organization, we slowly grew them and explored different locations. In addition to raising much-needed funds, these markets were instrumental in spreading the word about MEOW in our early days, helping us find supporters and volunteers who are still with us today. Our long-time volunteer Lori says: “I came to MEOW 20 years ago because I had seen [a volunteer] set up in the lobby of a downtown building.” In addition to being a dedicated foster home and cat care volunteer, Lori is now a core member of our markets team, researching markets and making sure we have everything we need to be successful.
COVID-19: A Turning Point
MEOW visited select markets selling our cat beds and toys for many years. It was a small but important source of funds. But the COVID-19 pandemic had an unexpected twist that led us to believe that there may be a market for more.
In the early days of the pandemic before masks were widely available, MEOW volunteers decided to help the public and the foundation at the same time by sewing fabric masks for sale. The response was incredible! Our volunteer crafters created thousands of masks in all sizes, colours and patterns. It was a win for MEOW and for the community.
As pandemic restrictions eased, two passionate and enterprising volunteers noticed how well the masks had done and saw an opportunity. Lori and our Board Chair Stephanie made the decision to diversify our products and grow our market presence. Lori says: “I did a small market in late 2020 and we did so well with just a few items that I wanted to pursue it further.” Stephanie agreed: “We have so much great volunteer-made product that we wanted to create MEOW at the Markets in a big way.”
Since then, markets have expanded beyond what we could have predicted. We had 32 market days in 2021, which generated over $32,000 in sales and donations! It was hard earned through almost 200 hours of actively selling at markets, plus many additional hours of planning, applying for markets, transport, setting up, tearing down and more.
Our offerings have expanded too! In addition to our pet items, we now make home items and accessories. These items are also great for the planet as we often make them from scrap fabric or material saved from the landfill. From tote bags and zipper pouches to microwave bowl cozies to gardening aprons to crocheted slippers, you don’t have to be a cat owner to support a great cause. Lastly, we sell merchandise from partner businesses at markets! We’re lucky to have awesome local businesses who support us by donating a portion of their sales.
More Than Just Fundraising
While we’re grateful for the opportunity to raise money in such a fun and unique way, markets are about more than just funds. “They are also a great opportunity to introduce MEOW to a wider audience,” Stephanie says. “Our standard opening line at the market is: ‘Are you familiar with MEOW Foundation?’ At every market, we encounter many folks who have never heard about MEOW or know what we do. It has been a great opportunity to educate.”
Many people either haven’t heard of MEOW Foundation or think we only do rescue and adoption. But we’re so much more! MEOW Foundation also offers a subsidized Spay Neuter Assistance Program (SNAP), Cat Food Assistance Program and Trap Neuter Return (TNR) Program for cats living in the Calgary community. Many are pleasantly surprised to learn that we own and operate our own thrift shop and that we recently took ownership of Kensington’s Regal Cat Café. ” Our booths also give us the opportunity to let people know how they can help the organization, whether it’s volunteering, donating, fostering or adopting.
We’ve had such a busy year, and it’s being capped off by our busiest holiday season yet! From small community markets to events that draw people from all over the city, we’re likely to be near you in the coming weeks.
MEOW will be at upcoming markets in Edgemont, Lake Bonavista, Heritage Park, Strathmore and Triwood, as well as just south of the city for one weekend at Saskatoon Farm. No matter the time of year, details of upcoming markets and other events can be found on our events calendar.
Between sales and donations, markets have brought in over $35,000 for MEOW cats this year – and we still have a few weeks to go! “We’re so excited to have already exceeded last year,” Stephanie says. “We are hoping to hit $50,000 in gross revenue for 2022. Fingers crossed!”