Lindsay Smith, REALTOR® with Keller Williams in Oshawa, is no stranger to giving back. For the past three years, Lindsay and his business partner Wendy have donated over $30,000 to local charities through their “20 For 2020” initiative in Durham Region.
But when the pandemic hit, and Lindsay noticed some of his favourite restaurants were unable to keep their doors open, he realized he needed to do something.
Lindsay leveraged the power of social media and created a Facebook group for customers and restaurant owners in Durham Region, bringing together over 14,000 restaurant owners and foodies alike to help keep Durham’s restaurants alive.
This is Lindsay’s Real Heart story.
A: I’ve lived in Durham my entire life. It’s the city where I began my real estate career in 1986 and I’m so lucky to call this place my home. My business partner, Wendy Starr, and I launched our team, “Buy, Sell, Love Durham,” in 2019 and our success is thanks to those in our community who’ve supported us every step of the way.
That’s why it was important for us to give back – to help and support Durham just as it did for us.
The pandemic has taken a major toll on the local restaurants in the area. Businesses are doing their best to stay afloat, but it’s hard even for the best of them. Coming from a family of chefs, this hit particularly close to home for me. When I noticed businesses being locked down in March 2020, I did my best to order takeout as much as I could, but it soon became evident that I’d need to do more to make a real difference. That’s what prompted me to create the Facebook group, “Restaurants in Oshawa, Whitby and Clarington offering take-out and delivery.” I wanted to leverage the power of social media and create a platform where restaurants could communicate with customers during lockdown.
It instantly took off. Restaurants loved the business it was stirring up and customers appreciated being able to share their favourite meals, promote other restaurants, and build each other up when we needed it most.
I began interviewing owners and shops, with the hopes of hearing the stories of the families who run these amazing places and putting faces to the restaurants that everyone has been supporting. I then shared these stories in the Facebook group, which led to even more engagement between the members. Over 14,000 people have now joined, making it one of the largest Facebook groups in Durham Region.
A: There are so many stories to choose from, but Julie Eaves in Oshawa sticks out to me the most. Julie purchased the Bulldog, a pub in Oshawa, in early 2020. Less than a month later, she had to close her doors. When the Facebook group was made, Julie was one of the first people to join. From day one, she spent hours in the group promoting her restaurant, sharing updates and doing everything she could to get business. Seeing her hustle and her determination to do everything in her power to promote the Bulldog was incredible.
She became one of the biggest users in the group and I got to know her better over the course of the year. Stories like hers are the reason I created the group. Her efforts weren’t in vain. As traction picked up, customers shared their positive experiences with the Bulldog, and it spread like wildfire. Without the group, she would’ve had to close permanently.
Restaurants weren’t the only ones to benefit. The group also brought community members together to try new foods and create new memories during a time where activities were limited. My other favourite story was about a father who began taking his son to pizza joints every other weekend across Durham. They’d share their experience, their food ratings, and the best part of each restaurant to the group.
Soon after, many of the posts were receiving more than 200 comments, with people excited to read their reviews and offering suggestions of what to try next. It wasn’t long before other people began doing the same thing with chicken wing and burger places.
Everyone rallied behind each other. The group brought a community together to not only support local businesses, but to share their passions for food. It’s been a win-win for everybody.
A: “20 For 2020” initially began in the fall of 2018. Wendy and I were eager to find a way to connect our professional work as REALTORS® with giving back to our community.
Wendy got involved with a local charity through one of our past clients and quickly realized how much more work could be done to support them. This particular charity was struggling because they didn’t receive any government funding, a common trend we began to see. That’s when we came up with our first idea to raise funds.
We decided to change the way we thanked our clients after they bought or sold a home. Rather than giving closing gifts, we had our clients pick a local charity of their choice for us to contribute to on their behalf.
It was an instant success. By the end of 2019, we had raised over to $10,000.
We knew we had something special with this initiative and building on our momentum, we officially launched “20 For 2020,” where Wendy and I set a goal of donating $20,000 in 2020 to local charities in our community.
A: At the beginning of the year, we started off strong. New clients loved our initiative, and we were on track to hit our goal.
Then COVID-19 hit and our world changed. With so much uncertainty, we were concerned we wouldn’t reach our goal. But knowing that Durham needed our support more than ever gave us a newfound determination to raise the funds, so we got to work.
In previous years, we hosted client parties for our brokerage, and other events in the community. During COVID-19, we donated all the money we would have spent on those events back to our local charities. As the housing market began to rebound in the summer, we quickly realized with our added efforts, our goal of $20,000 was not only achievable, but would be hit before the end of the year. It was incredible to see how receptive our clients were. Some even began to donate their own money along with ours.
We ended up raising $21,500 by the end of 2020, donating it to five local charities that are close to our hearts.
A: I’ve been a REALTOR® for over 36 years in Ontario. Throughout the years, I’ve been lucky enough to meet many different people and get to know them outside of our real estate relationship. It’s shown me that everyone has a story, and we really have no idea what people are going through. We all need to do our part in supporting those in need in our communities. That’s what motivates me every day.
It also makes me proud to be able to give back to my community, and to know that the donations we raise are going somewhere meaningful. Along with Hearth Place Cancer Support Centre, we’ve worked with Bereaved Families of Durham Region – a non-profit organization that has been supporting bereaved parents, young adults and teens for 25 years.
We are so appreciative that Durham accepted our initiative with open arms. It’s more than we could’ve ever hoped for.
A: We all live busy lives. We are all consumed with our families, businesses, and the personal stuff we have going on. Giving back to your community can be hard. It takes time and commitment. But the positive reception from the community and these initiatives showed me the impact you can have when your passion to do good is harnessed, and how people will rally around each other, even in the toughest times.
The Facebook group, specifically, helped me remember why I began giving back in the first place. It gave me a renewed sense of connection to my community. At a time when we were all locked down and feeling lonely, it brought us together.
My advice would be to understand why you want to give back. You should ask yourself what you feel most passionate about and then start to explore ways you could help your community based on that.
Finding your passion is the hardest part. Once you’ve found it, then it’s time to leverage your contacts, find others who are doing the same thing, and use your own skills to impact the community in any way you can.
It may be challenging at times, but when you find your passion, there’s nothing that can stop you.
In May 2021, Lindsay was awarded the Community Spirit Award in recognition of his work with “20 For 2020” and the Durham Region Facebook group by the Durham Region Association of REALTORS®.