On a Friday afternoon, a staff member is putting together what they like to call “treat bags” for the night. The bags are filled with condoms, lube, a small snack and a bottle of soda. They are distributed to the city’s street-based sex workers, all done by the people at Stepping Stone.
Stepping Stone is a non-profit organization that works with street-based sex workers in Halifax. Because they are non-profit, much of their funding comes from places such as the United Way, government programs (for housing) and legal foundations (for court support). “We work with over 100 individuals on a monthly basis on all of our programs,” says Renee Ross, the executive director of Stepping Stone.
“It's hard to get people to donate and support a cause for one of the most marginalized populations,” Ross says. She notes that although they are a non-profit charitable organization, they don’t have the same cachet as others. “It's not a favourite cause for many. Finding donations and corporate sponsors is a huge challenge. We occasionally get donations of goods and services, but most of the things we need come out of our own pocket," she says. So that means a lot of the things that could potentially be donated can become costly at the end of the year. Things like condoms. "We go through 16,000 condoms a year," Ross says.
Last year, Ross decided to create a fundraiser event for Stepping Stone. Named The Lobster Trap after a former strip club in the city, the event was a success, and so Ross decided to try to recreate that magic. This year, the event is named after the famous Peppermint Lounge. "It's a tip of the hat to the former sex workers that we still work with and support," she says. "We want to let people know that the sex trade in Halifax has a history, good and bad. We want to have a fun night and use the opportunity to get the word out."
The event is being held on Friday, Sept 28 at Michael's Bar & Grill on Young Street and features a showcase of some of the best of the city's punk scene, including The Scoop Outs and King's Eden. Ross is reluctant to say how much money she is hoping to raise ("I don't want to sound greedy," she jokes) but says that any and all funds will be greatly appreciated.