Paul and Tina Turner are lifelong residents of Welland, Ont.
They have seen it at its height when it was a bustling steel town providing jobs for thousands of locals in the 1960s and 70s. They have witnessed its decline since the early 2000s when the factories closed and the unemployment rate jumped to a city high.
Through it all, the Turners have worked to make the people of Welland feel pride for, and connection to, the city they live in. As the city struggles through COVID-19, one of its biggest hardships yet, they found a unique way to help the people of Welland, which is located about 25 kilometres west of Niagara Falls, Ont.
The Turners, both retired Catholic schoolteachers, came up with Operation Win-Win-Win. The initiative, which ended last month, aimed to lessen the strains of the pandemic in Welland, which has about 50,000 residents.
Watch the Turners discuss Operation Win-Win-Win:
“This idea was a brainchild of Paul’s where he thought, ‘Who’s really suffering right now in our community is the restaurants,’” Tina said. “Paul wanted to combine the need of the restaurants with the need of the vulnerable in the community, so he devised a plan.”
The Turners ran the initiative through It’s All Welland Good, a non-profit community group Paul pioneered 10 years ago, and The Hope Centre, a local food bank and housing support agency the couple has been involved with for decades. Residents of Welland were asked, via social media and newspaper article callouts, to donate $25, $50, or $100 through the Hope Centre website for a local restaurant of their choice.
“That’s how the restaurants will win because they will receive this money from the Hope Centre,” Tina said. “The Hope Centre will then give the gift certificates to the vulnerable in the community, so they win because they’re getting a nice tasty meal from a restaurant.”
“And the third win is for our city,” Paul said. “It’s about the community coming together.”
‘It was just a very nice thing’
Twenty-six Welland restaurants participated, including The Black Sheep Lounge, a popular café. Owner Lucas Spinosa signed on with the assumption that restaurants would be donating gift cards to the less vulnerable, which was already an idea he was fully in support of.
“To find out the gift cards were being purchased and paid for by the amazing people in this community and given to people who are less fortunate, it was just a very nice thing,” Spinosa said.
On March 18, the Turners, along with the staff at The Hope Centre, greeted gift card recipients with smiles. Operation Win-Win-Win raised over $11,000 in donations, which translated to more than 400 gift cards to hand out.
Marcie Clarkson, the Hope Centre’s community engagement co-ordinator, was responsible for their distribution. She said the initiative came at just the right time. Along with new clients, visits to The Hope Centre food bank were up 17 per cent in March alone.
“Our clients have had it hard this year and some have had no choice but to use our services for the first time,” she said in an email. “These gift cards bring happiness as they can experience a little bit of what used to be ‘normal’ during these uncertain times.”
‘Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do’
That’s why Paul felt it was he and his wife’s duty to help out in this time of COVID-19 struggles, even though he feels it was a comparatively small effort. He said this initiative was a “one-shot deal” to help residents in this time of crisis, but he doesn’t anticipate running the event again.
“We are more connected to things that will help people long term like affordable housing, or getting people back to work — things that have more staying power to [them],” he said. “But sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.”
Spinosa said the idea may have seemed small to the Turners, but it had a big impact.
“For the people that donate, it gives them a sense of involvement and belonging,” Spinosa said. “It’s knowing they did something that will make someone’s day, their week, their month, and, for some people, possibly their year depending on how much the cheque was.”
The Turners’ humble behaviour about this endeavour does not come as a surprise to Spinosa.
“I don’t think there’s a single person in this city who deserves their attention and their love because they have given more than anyone could ever possibly give back,” Spinosa said. “Everything they do bleeds goodness, and it radiates, and it’s infectious.”
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Paul and Tina both credited each other, along with their strong connection to Catholic teachings. What motivates them the most, though, is getting to know members of their community and making a positive impact in their lives.
“There is nothing that makes anyone happier than to be able to give,” Tina said. “That’s what brings joy in your life.”