The week of May 8 to 14 is Elizabeth Fry Week across Canada; and Yoriko Susanj, executive director of the South Cariboo Elizabeth Fry Society (SCEFS), says that it is an opportunity to give recognition to the E. Fry societies across the country and focus public awareness on what the society does.
“It brings attention to the marginalized, victimized, and criminalized women involved in the social and criminal justice systems,” she says. “Many E. Fry societies are in close proximity to prisons, and the bulk of the work E. Fry does nationally is within the prison system.” The Ashcroft office has a regional advocate who goes into the Fraser Valley Institute once a month to make sure the human rights of the women there are being upheld.
The SCEFS branch in Ashcroft is probably best known for its food bank, which is open on the first and third Wednesdays of the month from noon to 2:30. Susanj says they have noticed a number of new faces at the food bank in recent months, while other clients have stopped coming, probably because they are able to pick up seasonal work now that the warmer weather is here.
The majority of the people who use the food bank are over the age of 55, she adds.
“But we offer so much more,” Susanj notes. SCEFS provides a family support program, victim services, a Case Aid worker for youth who are on probation, and a school-based mental health worker who goes into local schools to do classroom work.
“She provides evidence-based, ministry-approved programs. The bulk of what she does are programs that help children cope with stress and anxiety.” Any interested teachers can sign up for the program.
The Society can help with filling out the forms for Legal Aid applications, while the Children Who Witness Abuse program is there for children aged three to eighteen. “We meet with the child and the non-offending parent when things are stable,” says Susanj. “We deal with everything from children who are being bullied at school to those who have seen domestic abuse within their house. Whatever their situation, we’re there with support to help them sort through the emotional baggage they’ve been through, so they can be healthy.”
In March SCEFS began running a Grandparents Empowering Grandparents program for grandparents who are the primary caregiver for grandchildren in instances where the parents are unable to be there. Susanj says that the program, which runs on the first Thursday of each month from 9:30 to 11:30, had one person at its first meeting and five at its second, with a Clinton resident attending the April meeting.
“All our programs are open to everyone in our catchment area,” says Susanj. This includes residents in and around Spences Bridge, Ashcroft, Cache Creek, 16 Mile, Clinton, and Walhachin.
Last year the society constructed a garden behind their office on Bancroft Street, which was looked after by staff and local volunteers. All produce grown in the garden was available to any member of the community, with the motto “Help us water, help us weed, help yourself to what you need”.
“Even though we planted late last year, it was awesome,” says Susanj. “A lot of seniors in the downtown area came to it and picked one or two vegetables, because that was all they needed.”
The garden will be back again this year, with staff and volunteers attending a “garden party” on May 19 to weed the beds and plant produce for this year. “We’re planting mostly salad stuff: tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, a couple of different types of lettuce.” There will also be chard, kale, arugula, kohlrabi, snow peas, garlic chives, and eggplant, along with herbs such as basil, cilantro, tarragon, and sage.
“We planted garlic in the fall, and should be able to harvest it in July,” says Susanj. “We’ll see how that goes.”
All services offered by the South Cariboo Elizabeth Fry Society are free of charge. For more information about any of them, drop by the office at 601 Bancroft Street in Ashcroft (Monday to Friday, 8:30am to noon and 1:00 to 4:30pm), call (250) 453-9656, or e-mail email@example.com.