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Needy motivate TTC staff

Everyday exposure to desperate people fuels fundraising for United Way


Saturday, October 28, 2000

As she drives her bus through Toronto’s varied neighbourhoods, Liz Camranos watches the struggle of the city’s poor from a front-row seat.

“In Rosedale, … I had an elderly lady get on the bus. She looked like she’d been punched in the face,” said Ms. Camranos, a Toronto Transit Commission driver. “Her nose was all distorted and black and blue. Her hair hadn’t been combed in about 10 months.”

The woman, with no coat despite the cool and rainy conditions, rode the bus all day to keep warm.

Ms. Camranos said TTC employees are confronted with desperate people every day, and it motivates them to raise money for the United Way of Greater Toronto. The United Way funds more than 200 agencies that help the city’s needy.

Gail Mahone, another driver who is working with Ms. Camranos to collect money for the United Way, said that it is important to raise more every year because the number of needy in Toronto is growing.

“Where it used to be every third or fourth corner that you’d see someone sleeping on the street, now it’s every corner and it’s not just downtown, it’s everywhere you look,” she said.

The TTC, one of the United Way’s biggest public-sector contributors, raised $724,315 last year, topping its 1998 effort by $59,769. Fifty-seven per cent of the 9,000 employees donated money through payroll deductions.

“Most of the money they raise comes from staff donations. Their level of employee participation is highly unusual, and we love it,” said Susan McIsaac, vice-president of fundraising for the United Way.

She said that the reason the TTC consistently raises a greater amount of money every year is because the campaign is fully supported by both the union and management, and the desire to get involved comes from the employees themselves.

TTC’s general manager, Rick Ducharme, said he supports the campaign because it “builds invaluable morale” among his employees.

As a way of offering some extra motivation, this year he and Vince Casuti — president of Local 113 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents TTC employees — bet the workers that they would not top last year’s total. If the bosses lose, and history suggests they will, a pair of each man’s boxer shorts will be run up the flagpole at the campaign finale.

“Working together on a campaign like this really helps our overall work relations, so we’re not just facing each other across the bargaining table,” said Mr. Ducharme.

Ms. Camranos and Ms. Mahone, co-ordinators for the Danforth division fundraising campaign, hope it is a learning experience for the public as well.

“We want people to know we’re trying to help,” said Ms. Mahone. “All they see us as is drivers. They don’t see the other side of us, the side that really does care.”

The two women organize TTC volunteers who sell pizza in subway stations every Wednesday during the campaign, and bacon and sausages at barbecues every Friday.

The two are also planning a dance where they hope to raise $5,000.