A national initiative to get COVID vaccines to people in countries that lack them—and to challenge the systemic failures that led to such a disparity in the first place—has encouraged Jews fundraise in original ways.
Love My Neighbour (LMN), the name of the movement, is supported by 37 Canadian organizations and multi-faith communities including the Toronto Board of Board of Rabbis and Reform Jewish Community of Canada.
According to Sara Hildebrand, the LMN project coordinator, barely 16 percent of people worldwide have received a COVID vaccine, and in some developing countries such as Haiti that number is as low as one percent.
To date, LMN has raised over $750,000 with an additional $536,000 from the federal government—for a total of over $1.2 million. A $25 donation delivers two doses to 10 people.
The clear need for vaccine equity has motivated many people to take action. Among them are Peter Driftmier and Amy Matychuk, a couple from Calgary who married in September of 2021.
In lieu of gifts at their wedding, they asked guests to donate vaccines to people in need. They also asked their guests to sign a global petition for the suspension of patents over vaccine technology. The couple believe it is important to do more than just “get vaccines in arms,” so LMN’s two-pronged approach of focusing on both fundraising and advocacy appealed to them.
“We really appreciated that it had both an opportunity for people to donate, but it also recognized that the only reason that we’re in this position at all of having to privately fund vaccines to make them available to other countries is because at a systemic level, there aren’t enough initiatives to ensure vaccine equity for everyone,” Matychuk said.
“So we appreciated that it both met the immediate needs that people needed to get vaccines in arms, but it also recognized that we’re never going to get out of this cycle of private citizens bailing out people around the world if we don’t have to systemic change at a governmental level.”
Aside from the formal contributions, family and friends placed donations in a jar—and some acquaintances who noticed the fundraiser on social media also donated. All told, Driftmier and Matychuk raised $5,600, surpassing their goal by $600.
But while their personal fundraiser was successful, the overall state of global vaccine equity is lagging far behind where they would have hoped.
“(We have) mixed feelings, to be honest, because at the time, we were feeling really hopeful that vaccines would be available to everyone, and we would be able to get out of the pandemic. But that wasn’t what happened,” Matychuk said.
“We weren’t successful at making vaccines available in enough of the world at the same time to slow those waves from having some pretty catastrophic effects in most places.”
Rabbi Dara Lithwick of Temple Israel in Ottawa was also inspired by LMN. When she heard about the initiative, she decided to swim seven kilometers across Lac St. Pierre in Quebec to raise money for donations, and also awareness of the systemic issues preventing most people around the world from having access to vaccines. She swam the lake in August 2021, and raised over $3,000 in the process. (She is planning to swim it again this summer.)
Like the others, Rabbi Lithwick was impressed with LMN’s focus on both philanthropy and advocacy, and she cited the interfaith element as an influence on her involvement.
“On interfaith work, when you’re working together towards a common end, you’re able to do more or deepen relationships in a different way than, say, having a dialogue or something like that.
“Building something together, I think it just deepens the bonds of connection in a really meaningful way.”