Most people in the Ashcroft area know that there is a food bank in town because every Christmas it is the focus of a great deal of fundraising by outside groups.
However, the food bank is just one program offered by the South Cariboo Elizabeth Fry Society, often referred to simply as EFry.
“In my first year I really wanted to do a lot of PR because I didn’t want to be just known as the food bank,” says general manager Yoriko Susanj.
While the food bank offers an important service to local residents, the society offers many quality programs such as the Family Support Worker who counsels clients on anything family-related such as relationships, communication and budgets. The school-based Mental Health Prevention Worker works with students in the area schools, offering pre-depressive counselling and intervention/prevention workshops. Children Who Witness Abuse helps young people, aged 3-18, overcome the mental trauma of witnessing violence and other forms of abuse. The Society partners with Ashcroft Employment to offer Breaking Barriers to Employment, once again offering counselling to people looking for work who have been identified by Ashcroft Employment as having specific barriers to finding a job.
They run the Victim Services program out of their office, reaching out to victims of crime in Ashcroft, Cache Creek, Logan Lake, Lytton, Clinton and Canoe Creek. They also get referrals from the youth office in Lillooet for Case Aid, supervising youth who are under conditions of probation, curfew or community service work.
Elizabeth Fry’s mandate is to advocate for marginalized, criminalized and victimized women and children.
Susanj says most of her office’s clients are women and children, but “We don’t say ‘no’ to [helping] men because there’s nowhere else for them here.”
There’s no progress or improvement in the situation when you’re only helping one side of the problem, she says.
The original Elizabeth Fry was an English woman from a Quaker family. Already involved in charitable work, she became an advocate for imprisoned women in the early 1800s. She raised money to help better their conditions behind bars and fought for better treatment.
The S.C. EFry Society started up in 1982 with the assistance of the Elizabeth Fry Society of Kamloops. It was located at that time in the United Church and operated by volunteers Doris Bruno, Marrion Baatz and Sharon Bach. It became an independent society in 1984.
The South Cariboo EFry Society is part of the Pacific Region of EFry Societies (PREFS), which is part of the Canadian Assoiation (CAEFS). Susanj says that helping women in prison is still very much a part of their work, and PREFS regularly visits the Fraser Valley Institution for Women in Abbotsford to make sure the inmates’ rights are being upheld.
Currently, the Family Support Worker sees about 30 regular clients, and Children Who Witness Abuse counsellor sees 17 regular clients with five more on a waiting list. The twice-monthly food bank service provides food for 20-25 clients over the summer and about 55-65 in the winter.
Susanj notes there was a drop in Cache Creek clients after public bus service was eliminated there a few years ago, leaving them without a way of getting to Ashcroft on food bank days.
“We’re here for everyone,” says Susanj, but a few more resources would be nice, as it would be to expand the staff so clients had a choice of who they could talk to. Donations are used for all of the programs, paying for food vouchers, emergency accommodations and other things for clients.
The Society’s catchment area goes from Spences Bridge to Clinton to Walhachin.
“All the communities are so supportive of our agency,” says Susanj. “They see the value in our work and that keeps us going when we’re having a bad week.”