Bucket of Charity

For Len Shapiro, helping others has rewards beyond monetary value

IT MAY NOT EXIST on paper, but many people have a bucket list — things they want to see and do in their lifetimes. Upon retirement, that long-dormant desire to see the Great Wall of China or learn to play piano often becomes more fervent, as we begin to acknowledge and accept our mortality.

At 80 years old, Len Shapiro has a different kind of list. He envisions “Len’s Bucket” as a container to be filled with carefully researched charitable causes and organizations. “My bucket contains more than 25 gifting organizations, from Ethiopia to Israel to Calgary,” Shapiro says proudly.

“Calgary Foundation has worked with me in building the bucket, and made my gifting accessible.”

Shapiro’s philanthropy got its start nearly 60 years ago when he worked as a controller for a plumbing company in Montreal. The company was using a new system for drilling through concrete floors. Wanting a piece of the action, 24-year-old Shapiro — with more ambition than equity — was offered a loan by the “82-year-old Scotsman” whose company supplied the drill bits used in the technique.

“His only two conditions were to pay the money back within four years, and more importantly, to never forget what he was doing for me — to make sure I did it for others,” Shapiro says. “I never forgot those words, and have lived my life always remembering I have to help others on their path.”

The investment did well for Shapiro. A few years later he moved to Calgary and “had a bit of luck in the oil patch.” His material wealth has helped to enrich countless lives in Calgary and beyond. His passion for supporting the Jewish community has extended to charities in Israel. He has invested in several groups helping children with special needs, as well as charities assisting the homeless such as the Safe Haven Foundation. Shapiro also works with the Calgary Health Trust and the Calgary Cancer Foundation, as well as several medical labs at the University of Calgary.

“My wife has fought three separate cancers, and we’re fighting a return of one now,” Shapiro says. “I believe all of her successes are attributed to us helping others.” Shapiro says philanthropy has given him many rewards that money truly can’t buy. “I don’t even like calling it charity; I call it investing in people,” he says. “It’s a great feeling when you can look someone in the eye and know you’ve helped them along.”


Story by Sean P. Young

Dated Fall 2013