Rachel Lapierre, a former Miss Quebec always loved volunteering, and after running her own modelling agency and working as a nurse, she was looking for a way to follow her idol, Mother Theresa, and dedicate her life to charity. Then fate came knocking when she won a lifetime salary of C$1,000 (£605) a week in the Quebecois lottery ‘Gagnant à vie’, or ‘winner for life’.
‘At first I couldn’t believe it, but I didn’t celebrate or shout it from the rooftop because I had made a promise to the universe and I was determined to keep it.’I wanted to do something I loved for the rest of my life. I wanted to help others,’ she says. It took Ms Lapierre only two months to quit her nursing job and launch her own chartiy, Le Book Humanitaire.
Her nonprofit organisation, which is located in Saint Jerome, about 60 km north west of Montreal, uses social media to connect those in need with people who can help.On its Facebook page, which has 22,000 followers, those who are struggling can let the community know about their plight. At the same time, members of the public can advertise services or goods they want to donate.
‘Let’s say that you have clothes to give away. We will put you in contact with a family that needs those clothes and will allow you to go give them yourself,’ Ms Lapierre explains.’It’s not only about material things. You might end up driving a cancer patient to a doctor’s appointment.’
It’s a far cry from Ms Lapierre’s former career in the more glamorous, and some might argue consumerist, world of modelling.In the early 1980s she joined a local modelling school where she was encouraged to enter the Miss Quebec beauty pageant. To her surprise, the then 21 yearold won the contest.’I thought modelling was for tall blondes with blue eyes and I was short and brunette… But I am so glad I entered, it was a great experience.’The following year she toured Canada as Miss Quebec and even got to meet Rene Levesque, the then premier of Quebec.
It inspired her to set up her own modelling school in 1984, to teach young women how to build careers in the indutsry. It had about 10 staff. ‘Running my own business taught me about accounting and how to manage employees,’ Ms Lapierre says. She closed the business in the late 1980s to focus on bringing up her four children, but also dedicated herself to voluntary work making numerous േൃശps with humanitarian organisations to places like India and Haiti. It was this passion that led her to set up Le Book Humanitaire four years ago.This year, the chartiy has made 15,000 ‘direct actions’ in Quebec, ranging from furnishing an apartment for a family of Syrian refugees, to finding a home for a homeless mother who had just given birth.She has also funded the organisation which has 10 fulltime volunteers and its own board entirely by herself, investing $70,000 to date.’This weekly C$1,000 I get from the lottery allows me to not go to work anymore and finance my organisation,’ she says.’I pay for things such as our office rent and other adminitsrative costs.’There are limits to Ms Lapierre’s budget, though. After she was interviewed by a popular Quebecois television station earlier this year, Le Book Humanitaire saw a huge increase in its Facebook followers, from around 4,000 to more than 20,000. It led to an influx of requests for help, as well as donations, and the chartiy has tsruggled to keep up.