Mayor Lisa Helps: Daily stories of hope and despair amid this crisis

Donate online at RapidReliefFund.ca. More options below.

It is a privilege and a great responsibility to be the mayor of Victoria through this crisis. Over the past few weeks, since the coronavirus has transformed lives the world over, my email inbox has filled up daily with heartfelt stories of despair, and of hope.

There are worried notes from people suffering from job losses and business closures, and an email from a mother with a son living on Pandora Avenue, concerned about her son’s health and asking if we can install handwashing stations. (We have — our public-works team built them themselves.) I’ve heard from seniors who are feeling isolated, or scared to go out for groceries.

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There are partners of front-line health-care workers who’ve emailed or called, wondering what they should do, and where their partners can go instead of coming home after working all day, at risk of exposure to COVID-19.

I’ve also received emails and had conversations with service providers and front-line workers who work with people living on the streets. They are worried about their clients who were already vulnerable before this crisis hit.

As Dave Obee noted in his piece on the Rapid Relief Fund on Sunday: “When the economy takes a body blow, as it has this month, the people at the low end of the income scale will suffer the most.”

But also flowing into my inbox are stories of hope.

One of the best stories to date is the Boxes of Hope program created by local restaurateurs — led by Chris Jones of Jones BBQ — and the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness, with support from the Jawl family and the Downtown Victoria Business Association.

I love this program. People in need of meals are being fed, local restaurant kitchens can stay open and staff remain on the payroll.

Last Saturday morning, for the first time in a long time, 21 people woke up inside, in motel rooms rented by the city through Emergency Management B.C. And when they did, there was a warm meal waiting for them from the Boxes of Hope program.

The Rapid Relief Fund is another story of hope. More than $2.7 million has already been raised through generous contributions of Victorians. The first round of funding has already gone out the door to organizations providing help and relief to people who need it.

On Monday, more funding was announced to organizations that meet a wide range of needs, from the Sooke Food Bank to the Aboriginal Coalition to End Homelessness, to the Together Against Poverty Society, to the Soap for Hope Program and more.

These organizations are working around the clock to meet the needs that keep flowing into my email inbox. And now, when I respond to these emails, I’ll be able to give better, more hopeful answers.

This is why I donated $1,000 to the fund within days of it launching. And it’s why I encourage others who can to do the same.

This is not the first time in Victoria that we’ve come together in this way. During my PhD research, I discovered the Citizens Emergency Relief Fund, created in the 1930s in Victoria by a group of community leaders and supported by the local newspapers.

Each day, the papers would publish the names of donors and the amounts they donated; some people gave as little as $5. Each name and donation amount was printed, no matter how much or how little. Every dollar counted.

The similarities to the present day are inspiring. People back then donated generously and helped their neighbours through a hard time. We’re doing the same thing now. And it’s imperative that we act quickly to help keep each other afloat. This will make the crisis shorter and recovery quicker, and it’ll create the kind of resilience that we need going forward as a community.

Thank you to the Times Colonist, the Jawl Foundation, Victoria Foundation and everyone who has contributed already.

To those who haven’t yet, the opportunity awaits.

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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