Gathered around a fire, three flood-affected residents chat, share stories and laugh together at the Yarrow Food Hub.
Victoria Kuit offers the group fresh sandwiches and snacks as they talk about the aftermath of last November’s devastating rainfall across southwest British Columbia and how they’re still tring to build back their homes, livelihoods and mental health.
When properties across the Fraser Valley flooded, Kuit opened the hub in her backyard in Chilliwack, around 80 kilometres east of Vancouver, for neighbours to grab a free bite to eat and get supplies.
In the six months since, it has blossomed into a community space for residents to reflect and build connections — “a place where neighbours can meet and connect and take a break from their properties and devastation,” said Kuit.
A couple hundred residents continue to visit the hub, which is open five days a week, she says — highlighting that the need for donations is far from over in the wake of one of B.C.’s most devastating natural disasters.
Last November, southwest B.C. was battered by torrential rains that caused landslides, highway collapses, and catastrophic flooding in several communities. Farms were flooded, livestock was lost, and hundreds of properties were evacuated, many of them in the Fraser Valley.
Kuit’s food hub is one of several places in the valley still offering a helping hand with donations and free services for flood victims.
Along with hot meals, tools and clothing, the hub recently began offering mental health support thanks to a grant, with a counsellor coming by weekly.
“We have people out there that still need help,” said Kuit.
“We are currently still looking for some furniture items, some rebuild materials … gas cards are obviously the mint right now.”
Inside the Gateway Community Church in the neighbouring city of Abbotsford, shelves are stocked with food and cleaning supplies at the Pantry, a project that also began in response to the flooding.
Around 25 to 30 families still rely on the Pantry every week, says pastor Marcel DeRegt.
“The impact on people’s lives is still huge. We’re still reaching out to a large number of people who are still sleeping in hotels,” said DeRegt.
In Abbotsford, 202 people remain in temporary lodging and are still unable to return to their homes, Mayor Henry Braun said.
Across the province, at least 1,150 households are still displaced, according to Emergency Management B.C.
These numbers only include those who have registered with the Red Cross and not those staying with family or friends, or are being supported by other means.
But even those returning to their properties are facing extensive repairs, potentially gutting their homes, and counting the cost of their lost belongings — and, in some cases, livelihoods.
DeRegt says the Pantry is still accepting donations and is now permanently established in the church for flood-affected families and others in need.
“They can come and shop with dignity … they can grab what they need when they need it,” he said.
Charities receive funding for emergency and long-term support
In the Fraser Valley, 25 charities have received grants for flood relief efforts, ranging from immediate emergency response to long-term recovery, with the Abbotsford Disaster Relief Fund (ADRF).
The fund was established days after the flood by the Abbotsford Community Foundation, Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce and the University of the Fraser Valley, and has since received over $4 million in donations from residents and corporations, according to Abbotsford Community Foundation executive director Wendy Neufeld.
More than 50 per cent of donations have been allocated and the rest are earmarked, she said.
“We’re still committed that every dollar that we’re raising is going to go and help the flood victims. And we know that this isn’t a short-term problem,” she said, adding that the ADRF is still accepting donations.
“There’s still an incredible need … we want to make sure that the awareness is still kept on the issues that they’re facing.”
Other examples of charities offering services are the Chilliwack Bowls of Hope, which provides free hot meals to flood-hit families, and the Abbotsford Hospice, which offers counselling services to support the mental health of residents.
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