Sobeys donate $6.5 million in bid to entice poor to college in Nova Scotia

HALIFAX _ The scions of the Sobeys grocery empire are donating $6.5 million to a community college in their home province, aiming to identify and help people who may have never considered pursuing higher education because of financial hardship or other barriers.

Several members of the Sobeys family gathered at the Nova Scotia Community College on the Dartmouth waterfront Thursday to announce the hefty financial endowment that will go to students at its 13 campuses.

Many said they hoped the money would help strip away traditional challenges to education and identify people who may not think a post-secondary education was possible.

The college will work with community organizations and law enforcement to identify those people, family members said.

“By providing individuals who face barriers an opportunity to access a college education, we hope to enhance their path to employment and independence,” Donald Sobey said, standing alongside his siblings and son Robert.

“We are making this investment because we believe education has the power to transform lives.”

A $4-million gift from the Donald R. Sobey Foundation will be used to recruit people who may have difficulty accessing a post-secondary education, while $500,000 from Frank, Heather, Karl and Ann Sobey will be given to students in financial need at the Marconi and Pictou campuses.

The family said that once the endowment fund is fully implemented, about 100 bursaries worth $2,000 each will be given to individuals referred to the college by community agencies every year. The assistance will go on in perpetuity.

Another $2 million from the Sobey Foundation will go toward improving the college’s food services education and refurbishing Sobeys Culinary Centres at six campuses, while financing bursaries for students studying culinary arts.

“Our hope is that through the direct participation and leadership of community organizations and law enforcement from Meat Cove to Yarmouth and every place in between, we can leverage this investment to brighten the economic outlook for Nova Scotia families,” Robert Sobey told the crowd.

It’s an opportunity Donald Sobey said his own father, Frank, would likely have taken advantage of if there had been a similar college in place when he was growing up.

He said his dad did not have a post-secondary degree and may have ended his schooling at about Grade 8 before going to work in his father’s grocery store.

But Donald Sobey said Frank took night classes in New Glasgow near the family home, where he learned invaluable skills like rapid addition and percentages.

“He said it was one of the best things he ever did,” he said. “My father had a great respect for education … and he never stopped learning.”

The college says the donation is the largest charitable contribution in its more than 20-year history.

“The donation is amazing for our students coming in right now and also for generations to come,” said Thomas Carey, a NSCC culinary instructor. “It’s going to give them the opportunity to get to class for one, and give them the opportunity to use the right equipment.”