The only women’s day shelter in Montreal that opens its doors seven days per week has received a generous $1-million donation from a retired businessman.

Chez Doris provides meals, clothing, health care, counselling and other services to up to 100 women per day. A funding shortfall nearly closed the 41-year-old non-profit charity in 2014.

Andrew Harper’s donation will help Chez Doris address rising demand for its services. The organization said first-time visitors spiked by about 60 per cent since last year. About 1,600 different women visit the shelter annually, amounting to roughly 26,000 visits per year.

“I know there are a lot of people in need. Especially women who are being discriminated against,” Harper told CTV Montreal on Sunday.

Harper, 95, emigrated from Europe to the United States. He served in the U.S. Army during the Second World War, before relocating to Canada with his late wife Carole. He made his fortune importing German chocolates and other confections.

Chez Doris Executive Director Marina Boulos-Winton said she initially worked with Harper to determine how the organization would spend a much smaller donation.

“The proposal was initially for a $10,000 gift. So I gave several ideas of what we would use $10,000 for,” she said. “Before you knew it, by November, it turned into a million dollars.”

Chez Doris said the rise in clients is due in part to asylum seekers who need clothing and hygiene products as they struggle to start new lives in Montreal. The group also notes an increase in Inuit women moving south as a result of housing shortages in Canada’s north.

Harper’s donation comes months after Chez Doris was forced to carry out major renovations to its building on Chomedey Street. A million dollars is a massive windfall for the organization, given its annual $1.68-million operating budget.

Boulos-Winton said the donation is earmarked for a new day centre, but more funding will be needed before the facility could become operational.

“A million dollars could be enough to purchase a building, but it is not enough to renovate it and to have the programs (and) the equipment,” she said.

With a report from CTV Montreal’s Adam Kovac