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Our Community: Victoria pitches in to help Vanuatu

When a cyclone devastated a country halfway around the world two weeks ago, a global emergency-relief organization headquartered in Victoria sprang into action.
Disaster Aid Canada head Anne McIntyre packages disaster kits for Vanuatu, which was devastated by a cyclone.

When a cyclone devastated a country halfway around the world two weeks ago, a global emergency-relief organization headquartered in Victoria sprang into action.

Cyclone Pam caused extensive damage when it hit the tiny island nation of Vanuatu, in the South Pacific. The storm could go down in history as one of the worst natural disasters the region has ever experienced.

More than 11,000 kilometres away, the phones started to ring at Disaster Aid Canada. This week, workers loaded a 12-metre shipping container with food supplies and tools to help Vanuatu residents survive and rebuild.

“Unlike government agencies, we work with partners on the ground,” said Anne McIntyre, executive director of the organization. “We respond to what the people tell us they need, not just supplying generic aid.”

The group is the go-to organization for other local charities and service groups in times of disaster. A recent meeting saw representation by more than 25 — all looking to co-ordinate humanitarian efforts for the Vanuatu residents.

The shipping container also contains food, medical supplies and equipment collected by the Victoria-Vanuatu Physician Project and the Compassionate Resource Warehouse.

Disaster Aid Canada has a Family Survival Pack that is pre-packaged for situations such as this.

The blue and yellow tote contains a tent, blankets, cooking utensils and tools, such as an axe to cut firewood. The disaster kits also include personal-hygiene products.

“The kits will keep 2,000 people safe for up to six months,” said McIntyre. “We will be sending 100 water-filtration systems, which will collectively provide 454 million litres of clean water to the affected residents.”

It’s just the latest humanitarian project for the non-profit agency, a project conceived by the Rotary Club 13 years ago.

Operating out of a small, nondescript office in Esquimalt, the agency has helped people in Croatia, Pakistan, Sudan, Haiti, Guatemala and Pakistan. For more information, go to


40 quilts made in memory of a friend 

A local quilter is putting on a quilt show to honour a friend and raise funds for the B.C. Cancer Foundation.

Nancy Martens has assembled 40 quilts to honour 40 years of friendship with her best friend, Jeanne Coverdale, who died of breast cancer in 2011.

“Making these quilts, with Jeanne in my heart, was therapeutic and helped me deal with my grief,” said Martens, who made 17 of the 40 quilts. “Now I have bigger reason to raise funds for the foundation, as my husband was diagnosed with cancer last year.”

The quilt show opened Saturday at the Sawyer Sewing Centre and runs throughout April.

Martens said her goal in holding the show was to illustrate the power of friendship and highlight the “amazing community and network” of quilters, while raising funds for the B.C. Cancer Foundation.

At the end of the show, the quilts will be distributed to more than a dozen cancer organizations for fundraising purposes.

Some of the organizations receiving the quilts include: the B.C. Cancer Foundation, the Canadian Cancer Society, Cops for Cancer, Camp Goodtimes, Island Breaststrokers, Ovarian Cancer Canada, the Prostate Centre, Team4Hope, the Terry Fox Foundation, the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (Run for the Cure) and the Prostate Cancer Foundation B.C.

Martens was initially set to make all the quilts herself. But as news of her tribute spread in the quilting community, she received quilts from all over North America, including one from a woman who quilted while working in a lighthouse off the coast of B.C.

Admission is free, but donations are accepted. The quilts are on display from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday to Friday, and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at Sawyer Sewing Centre, 3400 Douglas St.

For more information, go to or


Gala celebrates power of sport 

Help individuals with intellectual disabilities experience the transformative power and joy of sport by attending a benefit gala supporting Special Olympics B.C.-Victoria on April 10.

The goal of the Special Olympics is to help instil confidence and self-esteem in participants, as well as change attitudes and strengthen communities.

The Friday Night Lights Gala at the Harbour Towers features a four-course dinner, music by the Craig Henderson Trio and Tristan Thompson, and a silent auction.

Special guests include professional and amateur athletes, as well as local Special Olympics athletes. There will be an autograph area to get items signed by the pros.

Proceeds from the evening will go toward non-profit athletic programming at Special Olympics B.C.-Victoria. Programs cater to all ages and a wide range of abilities, with programs for children, youth and adults.

Tickets are $95 (tax receipt for a portion). The event runs 6 p.m. to midnight April 10 at the Harbour Towers, 345 Quebec St.

To purchase tickets, call 250-589-3690 or email [email protected]. For more information, go to


Soup Kitchen says thank you 

The Soup Kitchen, a charity dedicated to feeding the hungry, has donated $5,000 to Our Place as a gesture of thanks for hosting the service for the past year.

The daily soup kitchen had been operating out of St. Andrew’s Cathedral for 32 years, but had to vacate the premises when the cathedral began extensive renovations. Rather than stop the service, the kitchen moved temporarily to Our Place on Pandora.

“Our Place came to our rescue,” said Richard Marshall, chairman of the board of directors.

“The mission offered us free use of the dining hall, and the reception from staff was incredible. We didn’t know what to expect when we first arrived, but it far exceeded any expectations we had. This experience serves as a great example of how two similar organizations can work together to support common goals.”

To thank Our Place for its generosity, the Soup Kitchen has donated $5,000 toward a new busing station in the dining hall at Our Place. The money will kickstart fundraising for the project, with a total cost of $15,000.

The Soup Kitchen operates from 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m., Monday through Friday at St. Andrew’s Cathedral, 740 View St.

Our Place is an inner-city community centre serving Greater Victoria’s most vulnerable. For more information, go to or

Counters tally blooms by billion

Residents of Greater Victoria have counted more than 17 billion blooms in the 39th annual Flower Count. It might be a lot, but it’s still less than the record 21 billion flowers counted in 2010.

Each year, residents of municipalities in the region go head-to-head to declare their community the “bloomingest.” For the second straight year, Colwood won the distinction, with Oak Bay and Esquimalt in second and third place, respectively.

“Flower Count is a key community event that we are happy to support,” said Paul Nursey, president and CEO of Tourism Victoria. “Our climate in the spring differentiates our destination from others and attracts tourists from all over the world.”

Engagement on social media was high this year, with photos of plum and early cherry blossoms, said Scott McDonald, spokesman for Butchart Gardens.

“People really seemed to be having fun with the count against the backdrop of the warm temperatures and early spring,” he said.

This year’s flower count drew website visitors from all provinces and territories in Canada.

A total of 27 countries, as well as visitors from 26 U.S. states, logged on to the website. For more information, go to or Facebook.

Community kitchen opens on Shelbourne 

Students, seniors and young families in Saanich can learn more about food security with the opening of the Shelbourne Community Kitchen.

The kitchen, in a private home on Shelbourne Street, will be a neighbourhood resource centre for those who lack adequate access to healthy food. Cooking classes for up to seven participants will educate people on food preparation and build important food skills. Individuals will learn about healthy and economical food choices and how to prepare delicious, nutritious meals on a budget.

More than 120 people have already signed up to volunteer or to take classes.

A deer-resistant backyard garden will be available for members who wish to grow their own produce.

“I am extremely proud of the community involvement,” said Marlene Bergstrom, vice-chairwoman of the organization. “We have a good cross-section of people — all interested in all aspects of food security.”

The kitchen is the collaborative effort of diverse community partners, including the Lutheran Church of the Cross, St. Aidan’s United Church, St. Luke’s Anglican Church, Mount Tolmie Community Association and the Camosun Community Association. For more information, go to

Trek raises funds for Tourette Syndrome

Lace up your shoes and take part in the 7th Annual Trek For Tourette this afternoon.

The annual fundraiser is to raise funds and awareness for people suffering from Tourette Syndrome, a neuropsychiatric or brain-based condition that causes sufferers to make involuntary sounds and movements called tics.

Although it was once considered rare, it’s estimated to affect approximately one per cent of the population. Studies also report that up to 24 per cent of children develop tics during childhood at some point. The condition affects three to four times as many boys as girls, and both can have mild or severe symptoms.

The Trek for Tourette, Canada’s only national fundraiser for Tourette Syndrome, is a five-kilometre walk held in communities across Canada.

Registration runs 1 to 2 p.m. The walk starts at 2 p.m., with snacks at 3 p.m. Meet at the Polish Hall at 90 Dock St. Participants are encouraged to dress appropriately for the weather.

For more information or to register, go to

Breaking silence on mental illness

Support mental health by attending Music Makers and Stigma Shakers: A Benefit Concert to Break the Silence on Mental Illness, which takes place on Thursday.

The event includes performances by four local bands and artists: Kytami, Carmanah, Sam Weber, and Hawk & Steel. There will also be educational presentations by NEED 2 Suicide Prevention and the Victoria branch of the B.C. Schizophrenia Society.

The event is organized by UVic Hope and the UVic Mental Health Awareness Club.

Tickets are $25. The event runs 7 to 11 p.m. at the Alix Goolden Hall, 900 Johnson St. Tickets available on For more information, go to

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