An Interview with Mamas for Mamas Founder Shannon Christensen

Shannon Christensen, founder of Mamas for Mamas sits on bright blue chairs

Mamas for Mamas is an incredible Canadian charity that supports single mothers (and caregivers) in crisis. They are a poverty relief agent that fills the gaps in our system, making a real, on-the-ground difference in so many lives.

In honour of our Your Virtual Baby Shower! fundraiser, we sat down with the Mama behind Mamas for Mamas (!) to talk about how she (bravely) built this organization from the ground up, the generous role that Jillian Harris played, and the reason why, due to COVID-19, they need our support now more than ever.

 

Today Mamas for Mamas is such a beautiful and recognizable community force, but we can imagine how daunting it was found a charitable foundation. Can you tell us a bit about how and why you started?

The How

If I had known I was embarking on this level of journey, I’m not sure I would have had the lady balls to even begin.

Truthfully, the bottom line is I started Mamas to fill my cup after my dad passed away and I felt a huge missing piece in my heart. He left me an inheritance and I wanted to do something special with it, I just didn’t know what.

The beautiful part about building Mamas for Mamas was that it was a gradual process. I started Mamas as a side project as I finished off my masters in psychology and felt it filled a need I was missing in my world as a mama. It quickly took off though and I decided it had to be a registered charity if we were going to do the kind of work I could see we needed to do in order to fill gaps in poverty relief and community services in our community.

I didn’t realize we were the first federal charity born on social media and they truly had no idea what to do with us, so they rejected us twice. I just refused to take no for an answer and by year three I had figured out the system and we got approved in January 2017.

I was working almost full time as a sexual assault trauma counselor while building Mamas off the side of my desk during lunch hours and after work. I left my paying job in September 2017 to volunteer for Mamas as it could no longer be sustained half-time, and planned to use the inheritance my dad left for me to stay afloat and fund the agency infrastructure needs as necessary until we were eligible for any sort of funding.

Soon after Jillian Harris and her team did a $210,000 life changing renovation, donated $71,000 to start a modest payroll for our social worker and just like that- we were a fully functioning non-profit agency run by a kick-ass band of misfit Mamas.

The Why

Doing my graduate degree with two babies and my partner working up north made for long days and even longer nights. I was 26 years old with a three-year-old and four-month-old, and hopelessly isolated. It started with me opening a Facebook page to gather a community of Mamas to help me create a sense of belonging, and to create a sharing economy where we recycled our items instead of selling them.

It was more about emotional poverty relief in the beginning, but then I started seeing Mamas posting things they still needed in order to trade for things like milk and eggs. This just didn’t sit right. As I learned about what kinds of supports we had in our community, I realized there were some giant gaps that no agency was filling. So we registered as a non-profit.

What started as mamas donating directly to Mamas turned into me facilitating dozens if not hundreds of deliveries a month, as well as fielding a million questions about what kind of poverty relief resources were out there for housing, food, childcare, you name it.

It took us three years working 40 hours a week on top of everything else we had on our plates as mamas, professionals and partners. as a trauma counselor so I could pay my bills, and another 40 to build Mamas for Mamas on my lunch breaks and in the evenings to finally become a registered federal charity, and the rest is history.

It goes without saying that COVID-19 has changed our world. As a response, Mamas for Mamas recently announced the #RespondLikeAMother campaign. Can you tell us why community support is more important than ever, and provide a bit of insight into the kind of unique needs this unprecedented time brings?

Community support is always hugely important for our organization as we are funded by less than 10% government or grants; the rest relies on community-based fundraising, events and corporate partnerships.

So of course community engagement and support is always a huge part of our culture, but when you lose 98% of your projected funding for the quarter overnight, it is everything. We have been blown away by the individuals, small to large companies and foundations stepping up to ensure we can stay in operation and truly leave no mama behind.

Beyond the financial aspect of the campaign to keep our essential services running, we are also utilizing the #respondinglikeamother campaign to remind our fellow human to be kind in the face of this kind of global hardship; we need to respond just like your mama would respond if you were struggling.

Rumi says it best with “Before you speak, let your words pass through three gates; Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?” We need to respond with compassion and empathy in a time like this, and that means being tolerant of others opinions and worldviews.

On a more personal note, we all experience great transition when we enter motherhood. Can you tell us about something that 'becoming a Mom' changed your perspective on?

I was a passionate child/youth who struggled with fitting into the mold of my family. I was always in trouble it seemed, or creating trouble elsewhere. It was not until I had my own ball of fire and passion that I started to truly realize what she had to deal with on a daily basis⁠ — and she had four others to content with, too!

My mama gave me some much needed tough love but always with a safe space to land. Her goal was always to provide her five children with roots and wings. After having my two boys and one of them being the spitting image of my personality, I finally understood her and the way she raised me.

I used to feel slighted that she seemed to have such different standards for me versus my sisters and brother, but I realize now it was because I needed the extra structure and she could see that before I ever would before creating my own tiny humans.

Who is a Mama you admire and why?

To choose one mama I admire is like trying to choose my favourite flavour of ice cream ⁠— an impossible feat! In this very moment I have to say I admire my nanny/mama helper Veronika who is a bad ass single mama to a sweet little three-year-old. I recently hired her to help watch my kids after school, and we ended up getting isolated together based on COVID-19 hitting right when she started.

She has been the secret weapon to keeping me sane during this whole thing working 12 hour days on Zoom, not to mention helping to clean and pack up the whole family after the giant septic flood we just went through last week. 

And last, it's so important to take some time to celebrate wins ⁠— especially in hard times. What one thing are you most proud of?

One thing I am most proud of is our team culture, even and especially when times are tough these mamas stick together. We are always sticking together and always stepping up to build each other up, it makes it so easy to love what we do even on the tough days.

We're your doula and best friend in one holistic kit. We combine clean, vegan postpartum products with the education that helps Mamas thrive. Get your Thrive Mama Postpartum Care Kit today.

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