An Interview with Philip Burgess, founder of From The Bottom Up Foundation
Chris: What is From The Bottom Up Foundation?
Phil: From The Bottom Up Foundation is a non-profit foundation that provides diaper assistance to families in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. We collect and distribute diapers to our partnering agencies within the area. Unlike most diaper assistance programs that collect diapers and distribute them all at once to families in need, our efforts focus on eliminating the worry associated with diapers altogether, we do this by only accepting a family into our program if we can 100% provide diapers for their child until they are potty trained. In doing so, we can eliminate some of the health risks and financial worries associated with not having enough diapers. Here is one of our blog posts that highlights some of the risks of not having enough diapers.
Chris: Can you explain to me your branding and image?
Phil: Vancouver's Downtown Eastside is located on the unceded Indigenous land belonging to the Coast Salish peoples, in appreciation of this we have incorporated the native dragonfly into our logo. The indigenous dragonfly symbolizes change and growth on the journey of self-realization, the type of change that fosters mental and emotional maturity. Given that a large amount of the Downtown Eastside's population is of indigenous descent, it was important for us to show our respect and honour these roots.
Chris: What is your primary objective/goal?
Phil: From The Bottom Up Foundation is different than other foundations providing assistance to lower income families within the DTES. We focus our efforts on the essential need for diapers, here is why:
- Diapers are expensive and there are no other diaper assistance programs within Vancouver let alone a sustainable program.
- Diapers, regardless of what social class you are a part of, are something that we all have needed and can relate to.
- And most importantly, we believe that, regardless of your past, if there is a time to turn your life around, it is when you become a parent.
Ultimately, we are using diapers as a tool to build relationships with families at a time where they are susceptible and hopefully willing to change. Yes, our goals are ambitious but we believe they are absolutely attainable. Our team has accomplished a lot already through our partnerships with various organizations around the city (Ray-Cam Co-operative Centre, Sheway, BabyGoRound, etc.). These organizations have direct relationships with families living within the DTES and share the common goal of fostering the social, economic, health, and cultural well-being of these families. These trained and certified partnering organizations do the difficult job of identifying the families most in need through their existing relationships with these families
Our foundation is more than just your typical diaper bank. We continue to support these families once their children are out of diapers. For every box of diapers we donate to a child, we put away 10 percent of the cost of that box of diapers to go to that child at a later date. We think of it as a little savings fund that can go to a musical instrument, sports program, or something else that can support the child’s success. As we grow and the number of families we support increases, we aim to introduce more support programs that cover the areas of nutrition education for the parent and child, exercise and healthy living programs, and employment skills and counselling initiatives.
Chris: How and Why was BUF created? / What inspired you to start (or join) BUF?
Phil: I moved to Vancouver in 2013, like most new to the city, I was amazed by the beauty, cleanliness, and wealth that were instilled in the city. Growing up in Ontario, Vancouver was viewed as a far away oasis where nature and civilization grew hand in hand. I knew of Vancouver’s Downtown East Side and some of the programs and organizations operating to help those living there, but it was not until I saw it with my own eyes that I knew there was something seriously unbalanced. I’ll never forget my first bus ride down East Hastings Street where I saw a glimpse into the lives of those living on the street with mental health problems and drug addictions. I remember thinking how this epidemic could exist in the middle of one of the world’s most beautiful cities. At that moment, everything to do with the DTES became an obsession, especially helping the families living within it. However, it was a few years later, in November of 2015, after engaging more deeply and understanding some of the goals of the organizations operating within the DTES, that From The Bottom Up Foundation was created.
Chris: What was your first experience in the charitable sector?
Phil: Over the last 10 years, I have volunteered and fundraised for different initiatives but From The Bottom Up Foundation is my first real applied experience working in the non-profit sector.
Chris: What is so important about the work that you do?
Phil: At first glance, our efforts seem to be solely focused on something simple, a diaper. Something that all of us have experienced in our lifetime and, speaking for myself, took for granted. Can you imagine the idea of not being able to afford enough diapers for your baby? It would be horrible. However, providing diapers allows the families in our program, most often already dealing with multiple issues, to have one less thing to worry about. For me, it is about investing in the future generations in our society. Like everyone in the world, we do not get to decide who are parents are or what social class we are brought up in, it just happens. From The Bottom Up Foundation works extremely hard to make sure that both the children and the new parents living in the DTES get an equal opportunity to not only escape the poverty cycle but succeed in the costly city of Vancouver.
Chris: What inspired you to get involved in charitable work?
Phil: There are a number of reasons why I decided to get involved in this charitable work; the most obvious was the fact that I recognized a huge need that was not being fulfilled by any current organization in the city. I have always been intrigued by the Downtown Eastside, once I realized the number of children growing up in this area, I wanted to make sure I did my part in giving these children and their parents an equal opportunity to succeed. As a 25-year-old man without any children, I am not the person most people expect to be doing this type of work. But my goal is to foster success for these families starting from the bottom up, with diapers. I believe in this cause and I am lucky enough to have built a team who are willing to go down fighting for it.
Chris: What is it about helping people in need that feels good?
Phil: Personally, the feel-good aspect is just a fortunate byproduct of the good work and change we are trying to make for others. It is great to want to help people but if your motives are for you to “feel good” about it, you may loose momentum when the novelty wears off. For me, I am a firm believer that, although we are not all cut from the same piece of cloth everyone should be given a chance to succeed. Putting in time and effort to help families in need and provide to them with the necessities to succeed is a great feeling in itself.
I can only speak for the families I have had the privilege of working with but for me, the most common misconception is the idea that all parents living in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside have drug problems. Yes, addiction is prevalent in this area but not everyone is an addict. We live in an extremely expensive city that most of us have made the decision to live in. For those who were born here or had to move here for other reasons, it can be extremely difficult to stay ahead and not fall into financial dilemmas. We do not ask the families coming into our program if they come from addiction; we simply try to improve their situation From The Bottom Up, quite literally.
Chris: Anything exciting on the horizon?
Phil: Yes, definitely! By the time that this information is shared with your reader base, we will have successfully provided over twelve thousand diapers to families living in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. In addition, as we move into our 10th month in operations, we will be introducing Dental Care to the children in our program through a partnership with Vancouver Costal Health’s Children’s Dental Program. We have come an tremendously long way since our launch in January of this year and we are so grateful that other organizations are reaching out to us in hopes of contributing to our efforts. Like the expression, “it takes a village to raise a child’, we are well on our way growing the village that is making a positive impact on Vancouver’s families in need.
Chris: What are the most common misconceptions people have about single parents in need?
Phil: I can only speak for the families I have had the privilege of working with but for me, the most common misconception is the idea that all parents living in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside have drug problems. Yes, addiction is prevalent in this area but not everyone is an addict. We live in an extremely expensive city that most of us have made the decision to live in. For those who were born here or had to move here for other reasons, it can be extremely difficult to stay ahead and not fall into financial dilemmas. We do not ask the families coming into our program if they come from addiction; we simply try to improve their situation From The Bottom Up, quite literally.
Chris: What advice would you give to someone that is interested in getting involved in charitable work?
Phil: Like in anything, find a cause that you believe in and are passionate about. Only then will you be motivated and excited enough to keep going when times are tough. It is also extremely important to understand your goals and to stick to those goals. Even when you are trying to make a positive impact in the world, you will still encounter people that will criticize your efforts. For us, it was the issue around the environmental impact of disposable diapers. YES, we know that cloth diapers are more environmentally friendly and YES we know that disposable diapers are not great for the environment but our goal was not to make sure everyone agreed with how and what we were doing. Our goal is to help every family possible by providing a sustainable solution to their diaper need. I believe it is crucial to stand up for what you believe in, if you don’t, the public will see this and probably take you less seriously as a philanthropist. Be true to yourself and true to your goal.
Chris: Most people want to get involved in some form of charitable work, but it often gets pushed to the side. Why do you think that is?
Phil: We all live busy lives. We all have bills to pay. For most people who say they want to get involved, help them, empower them and encourage them. It’s completely fine if you don’t end up getting involved, but don’t talk about doing it if you’re not going to. Do you think it’s ironic that some of the wealthiest people in the world, like Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, built their empires up before donating a majority of it to different humanitarian causes? Do you think their intentions were to make billions of dollars to eventually give it away? Who knows, but if you take anything away from this, it is that you do not need millions of dollars to make an impact for someone else. A great friend of mine once told me that no one has ever gone broke from giving. As long as you have a vision and a passion, you can make a huge difference in this world.
Chris: How can the residents of Vancouver help BUF?
Phil: Our foundation is always looking for like-minded individuals to join our efforts in increasing our awareness in and around Vancouver. Like most non-profits, a large portion of our time is spent on generating donations to our cause. Without it, we would not be able to sustain the support for current families in our program nor bring on additional families each and every month. The best part about our cause is that, although financial donations ensure that we purchase the proper sizes of diapers, we also collect any loose, opened or new packages of diapers to provide to the families in our program. So if you are a parent and have any leftover sizes, please donate them to our cause. If you would like to make a financial donation, please visit our website www.bottomsupfoundation.com to donate. If you are a working professional and believe that our cause is something that you, your friends or your colleagues would support, email us and we will come in, give a presentation and explain to you in more detail our current impact and the bright future we have for the families of Vancouver’s DTES.
Chris: Where can someone contact you if they want to get involved with BUF?
Phil: The best way to get in contact would be to give us a call at 778-229-7445 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We have all of the social media channels as well if you prefer to contact us that way (facebook, twitter, and Instagram) or you can visit us at our website www.bottomsupfoundation.com