Kingston Grandmother Connection reopens online store to support African grandmothers

Group photo of Kingston Grandmother Connection, pre COVID-19. Image via Kingston Grandmother Connection.

After a successful fall sale online, the Kingston Grandmother Connection has reopened their Shopify store to continue to raise money for the charities supporting African grandmothers, and in hopes of attracting Mother’s Day shoppers.

Kingston Grandmother Connection (KGC) is a group of women involved in supporting The Stephen Lewis Foundation’s Grandmother to Grandmother Campaign and Help Lesotho. Both of these highly-regarded Canadian Charities support programs in 15 African countries aimed at helping African grandmothers and their families. These courageous women are struggling to raise their grandchildren, whose parents have died primarily from HIV/AIDS related diseases.

At their online store, the KGC sells many items they would normally sell at in-person markets.

“Most of the items we sell are made and donated by our talented members or their families: wooden cutting boards, nesting boxes for birds, fabric items such as placemats, quilts, baby bibs, tote bags, aprons, nature photographs. We also offer African crafts such as baskets, sculptures and jewelry,” said Deb Ruse, volunteer with the Kingston Grandmother Connection.

“We were able to raise $12,000 at our fall sale, which didn’t approach what we would have raised in two days of in-person markets, but was a welcome surprise,” she shared.

The Kingston Grandmother Connection were able to set up their Shopify store with minimal cost by doing it themselves. The makers and donors provided photos and descriptions of their products, and Ruse set up the store over a period of two weeks.

“It was a steep learning curve, and a challenging, intense two weeks, but we managed to open the store a couple of days before our deadline,” she said.

The support programs which help the African grandmothers have also been hampered by COVID-19.

“Think of these people who are already challenged by difficult living conditions, and now COVID-19 arrives. Travel is more difficult for the beneficiaries and for the program providers. Programs have been disrupted. Marketplaces shut down. Livelihoods lost. Isolation has increased,” Ruse said.

“Program providers have had to come up with new ways to communicate (in place of in-person gatherings), new ways to get life-saving supplies and medications to the beneficiaries, ways to clearly communicate COVID-19 precautions,” she continued. “One example in Lesotho was the installation of “tippy taps” in many communities. The Tippy Tap is a hands-free device for hand washing that is especially designed for rural areas where there is no running water. It’s operated by a foot lever which reduces the transmission of germs and pathogens as the user only touches a bar of soap suspended by a string. These tippy taps are an effective way for households without running water to prevent transmission of viruses such as COVID-19.”

Illustration of a Tippy Tap, provided by Kingston Grandmother Connection.

The online store has seen great support from the Kingston Grandmother Connection followers.

“As with many other pre-COVID experiences, our shoppers miss the in-person experience of our markets,” Ruse continued. “Chatting, visiting, handling items. But many enjoy the online browsing and we’ve been very pleased with how the store has been received.”

Ruse said the biggest difficulty the KGC has experienced throughout the pandemic has been reaching a wider audience in the Kingston area.

“In addition to the store, we’ve had Pop-Up Sales in members’ driveways, selling plants, ‘new to you’ clothing, art work, and jewelry,” Ruse shared in an email to Kingstonist. “These sales allowed for the in-person experience, but they are subject to sudden notices of lockdown, so we’ve had to be very flexible in our planning. Right now, we need to reschedule a plant sale we planned for the Victoria Day weekend. We are hoping that other sales planned for May 29, June 12, and August 28 will be able to go ahead.”

Upcoming in-person sales will be detailed on the Kingston Grandmother Connection website at, she added.

The KGC offers contactless curbside pick-up of items purchased at their store. Ruse said purchases can be picked up at her home in central Kingston, every Saturday between 9 a.m. and noon. Shoppers are asked to maintain a safe distance and wear a mask. Delivery is available for purchases over $10, within a certain distance. More details on pick up and delivery can be found at their store, under the How It Works tab.

“When it feels overwhelming, I remind myself it’s #allforthegrannies,” Ruse concluded.

Help support the African grandmothers by making a purchase at the Kingston Grandmother Connection store until Friday, May 14, 2021. Visit the Kingston Grandmother Connection website to learn more about where your support goes, and how the group helps African grandmothers.

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