"This year, with COVID, with what I knew about what's happening in relationships that are poisoned by abuse and violence, I just felt it was a good time to give people hope."
Longtime South Okanagan Women in Need Society volunteer Diane Fru didn't know what the public response would be to the charity's annual "Walk to End Abuse" in the midst of a pandemic, but she knew she had to try and raise as much money as possible.
As it turned out, the community was eager to help.
The walk, which was virtual this year, has already shattered records, raising over $55,000 to date. The donation period is being kept open through the rest of the week, due to an especially high need for SOWINS' services during the pandemic.
Fru was the top individual fundraiser this year, raising over $2,300. She has a personal connection to the services for women and children leaving abusive relationships that SOWINS offers.
"I spent 13 years of my life in relationships, dating back to when I was 22, that were physically and emotionally abusive," Fru said.
Now 75, Fru recalls how 50 years ago, SOWINS did not exist, nor anything like it, to help a single mother get away from violence.
Fru escaped and eventually found a happy, healthy marriage. After her children were grown and she was heading towards retirement, Fru started looking for ways to give back to the community through volunteering, and found SOWINS in 2015 after both a close friend and her son suggested it.
Since then, she has been an avid volunteer, starting out knitting eight-inch wool squares to add to afghans that would be handed out to women who came in to SOWINS, and now helping as a fundraising committee member.
The "Walk to End Abuse" is an especially important success story to Fru. It started as "Walk in Her Shoes" in 2013, raising only around $2,000, then was re-branded in 2018 so that participants and donors would understand better what was being supported.
Historically, the event has been launched through a fundraising event at a local restaurant. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, that was impossible this year, and yet the funds have poured in and surpassed past years nonetheless.
"I think people are recognizing that this is a bad year for abuse. You know, normally people would be off working or working out of the home or whatever, but this is quite different. People are not working or they're working from home or whatever, which means that you don't get a reprieve, when you're in that kind of relationship," Fru said.
"It spreads nothing but hope for someone like that, to see that the community is so interested in having them succeed. I think that's a very powerful message."
Funds raised from the Walk to End Abuse will go towards SOWINS' ongoing work helping women and children rebuild their lives after escaping abuse. Find their fundraising page here, still open to contributions.
Fru has a message of hope for anyone going through domestic abuse.
"You're not alone. And I can tell you, if I can get through, and still maintain my sanity and my dignity and my respect to myself, and have someone like the husband that I have now that supports me in that way, you can," Fru said.
"Don't give up hope. You're not alone."
Reach SOWINS and find out about their services here.