As effect of pandemic grows, so does community need: Salt Spring organization

Please donate at RapidReliefFund.ca. More options below.  

Many people think of Salt Spring Island as idyllic.

But it’s not immune to the ravages of the COVID-19 virus, which has left many businesses closing their doors.

Many people are seasonally employed and low income, and lots are homeless, Rob Grant, executive director of Salt Spring Island Community Services, said Monday.

“We’ve got a food bank and a shelter that serves a certain part of the population. But now we’re going to have to stretch to serve a whole new segment of the population that maybe never would have connected with us before. The working poor are now tilted over to the unemployed.”

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For example, Barb’s Bakery and Bistro, a community hub in the heart of Salt Spring, is only offering takeout and has laid off 15 staff.

But money donated to the Rapid Relief Fund will be put to work immediately in the island community to support people in need because of the virus. The fund — set up by the Victoria Foundation, the Jawl Foundation and the Times Colonist — has raised more than $2.7 million.

The first million was raised in a day and a half. That money has already gone out in grants to organizations representing more than 80 agencies across the region.

The next batch of money — $645,000 — is going out this week to 10 organizations: Salt Spring Island Community Services, the Sooke food bank, the Cridge Centre for the Family, AVI South Island, the Aboriginal Coalition to End Homelessness, Cowichan Green Community, Disaster Aid, the Saanich Peninsula Lions food bank, the Victoria Native Friendship Centre and Together Against Poverty.

Grant said the money is timely, noting Salt Spring has between 100 and 150 homeless people. “It’s really hard for a small community to absorb all those needy people,” he said —especially given the requirement of physical distancing.

“Shelters are places where you congregate people. How do you distance people? Instead of cramming them in small buildings, we have to disperse them. That’s where a lot of the funds will go.”

Salt Spring Island Community Services is renting a block of rooms at a motel and will move six to 10 people out of the shelter.

“We’ve got a 78-year-old man who’s not in great health and others with respiratory illnesses,” Grant said. “We want to get them completely out of the mix of the shelter crowd and get them into rooms.”

Rob Janus, director of communications for the Victoria Foundation, said the fundraising effort has been fantastic. “We’re not intending on letting up any time soon. This crisis hasn’t taken a day off and neither will we.”

On Monday, the Victoria Foundation’s board of directors had a virtual meeting and approved an additional $250,000 from its discretionary fund to go toward the Rapid Relief Fund as a matching goal. “So we’re trying to raise an additional $250,000 from the community,” Janus said.

To disperse the funds, the foundation did a quick but thorough scan to connect with as many of the service-delivery charity organizations in the area as it could.

“It’s not just ‘Let’s give them $100,000 and them $100,000.’ It’s actually a lot more sophisticated than that,” Janus said. “We try to get a real sense of how much need there is and what that equates in terms of dollars. And we have to be assured they have the capacity to deliver on that. We don’t want the funds just sitting around.”

There are no plans to quit, he said. “We’re just going to keep doing this. As soon as that list was completed we were working on the next list, because we know we’re not getting everywhere with the first list or with these ones.”

ldickson@timescolonist.com

HOW TO DONATE

Tax receipts will be issued. If you are open to receiving your tax receipt by PDF, please include an email address with your donation.

• Online: RapidReliefFund.ca

• Phone: 250-381-5532

• Mail: Send cheques (made out to the Victoria Foundation) to RapidRelief Fund, Victoria Foundation, 200-703 Broughton St., Victoria V8W 1E2

The Rapid Relief Fund was created by the Victoria Foundation, the Jawl Foundation, and the Times Colonist to help people in need as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. CHEK Television, Coast Outdoor Advertising and Black Press are helping to boost awareness.

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