The leadership students at Cache Creek Elementary School were one of several groups, businesses, and indidiuals who helped the food bank in 2017. The students held “The 12 Days of Giving” in December, with every school day between December 5 and 20 dedicated to collecting different kinds of non-perishable food items. Five of the students — (from left) Cori Patterson, Sierra Porter, Napthalee Rodriguez, Alisha Brunskill, and Lillian Eaton — delivered the collected items to the food bank just before Christmas. Photo: Barbara Roden.

Ashcroft food bank saw an unprecedented demand last summer

Food bank levels are back to normal; but clients are now seeking emotional support after the fires.

It was a challenging summer at the food bank operated by the South Cariboo Elizabeth Fry Society (SCEFS), which saw a huge increase in the number of people using it at the height of the wildfires in July and August 2017; but SCEFS executive director Yoriko Susanj says that the society is now dealing with the ripple effects of last summer’s wildfires.

The food bank—which operates on the first and third Wednesdays of each month—normally sees 55 to 65 households each day it is open. However, Susanj says that during July and August 2017, they processed 914 households through the food bank: a total of 1,622 adults and children.

Susanj made it back into Ashcroft on July 11, and asked the Village for use of either the arena or the community hall, to act as a supply depot. She got use of the community hall, and on July 12 a semi-trailer full of food and supplies from Save-On-Foods arrived, followed by another Save-On delivery on July 14 and a convoy of supply vehicles organized through the Four Wheel Drive of Association of BC on July 15.

READ MORE: Food and supplies arrive in Ashcroft for those in need

READ MORE: Convoy of vehicles brings supplies to Ashcroft

“We made 303 home deliveries to people in Ashcroft, Cache Creek, and Clinton: to seniors, people without vehicles, anyone who couldn’t get out of their home,” says Susanj. “We took supplies up to Canoe Creek, because all the men and teenaged boys were out fighting the fire and they were surrounded by fire and couldn’t get out.

“Volunteers took a trailer up there, and some of the supplies were then transferred from Canoe Creek to Alkali Lake and Dog Creek.”

Susanj says that Ashcroft resident Ryan Lake once again issued a challenge: he and his family would match food bank donations up to $1,000. “The challenge has been met. That, with the $5,500 from the CP Holiday Train, plus 1,250 pounds of food and $2,203.90 collected from people who went to see the Holiday Train, will really help us.”

She says the cash will be held in reserve, to help get the food bank through the summer when supplies run low. “But we’re looking awesome right now. We’re above the usual levels, even with the fires.”

She adds, however, that the fires took a toll on the SCEFS office staff. “The immediate need for the community was food and supplies, and we tried to provide that to the best of our ability, to fill the needs. When school started again the demands on the food bank dropped dramatically and went right back down to the usual levels, so we were kind of relieved.

“But as September finished we got really busy with people coming in wanting emotional and mental support. You have fire victims living in hotel rooms or temporary rentals, spending Christmas in a hotel room by themselves, and they’re frustrated, feel they’ve been forgotten.

“And there are people who were unemployed for a couple of months [during the fires], and the bills are coming in. It builds up, and affects relationships. It’s the ripple effect of the fire. The family support worker is working her tail off; so is victim services. The need now isn’t food or supplies, it’s mental and emotional support, and we’re trying to service that now, by listening and helping people through the process.”

Susanj adds that this will continue into the New Year “for sure”. “Until fire victims are back in their homes, it will continue. We need cash donations to provide proper programming for fire victims, and we’re looking for funding so we can start a support group. We’re seeing lots of individuals and lots of common themes. But as staff we have to balance our work and not bring it home. We talk a lot about vicarious trauma, and we’ve sure seen a lot of it this year with staff.”

She notes that the community has been incredibly supportive. “All I had to do was say ‘Hey, I need your help.’ People came and gave us muscle power, food, and cash. We feel very supported by the community.”

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