Flood Relief Efforts Continue in BC Thanks to new Coalition

Featured Image: Flood waters cover Highway 1 in Abbotsford, B.C., Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

While most of the country has moved on, relief efforts continue in the southern part of British Columbia as many still work to rebuild homes and businesses and feed their families.

One church that has led the way is Gateway CRC in Abbotsford, setting up a Flood Response Strategy to help address the intermediate and long-term spiritual and material needs of local residents. “Our vision is to provide both HELP and HOPE in the name of Jesus, through the stability of a coalition of local churches,” shared Pastor Marcel deRegt on Gateway’s Facebook page. “This is our neighbourhood and we believe that God has placed us here for such a time as this!”

They’ve done this in two ways. The first is their Crisis Response Centre, a distribution centre that works with local agencies to provide counseling, support services, wholesome meals, and household goods to those in need. Ms. Tracey Tuin accepted the role as the centre’s coordinator in February, after some encouragement from others and a nudge from God. “Being personally affected by flooding myself,” Tuin recalls, “I could relate to the experience of many who came to Gateway for support and the timing seemed just right.” Tuin set up and now oversees the long-term space for the church, called “The Pantry”. It’s open 3 days a week and welcomes approximately 25-30 households to shop for basic food and household supplies. 

The other significant way residents are getting the help they need is through the Abbotsford Disaster Relief Coalition (ADRC), a group that formed earlier this year with area churches and organizations. The ADRC helps those in need on an ongoing basis when other organizations have left, or when funding from federal, provincial, and local governments have dried up. They aim to “fill in the gaps, so to speak,” shared Gary Veeneman, a member of the coalition as well as Diaconal Ministries’ Diaconal Coach for Classis BCSE. Milt Walker, Program Coordinator of the ADRC, began his work immediately in the basement of Gateway as the food and clothing pantry began to take shape. When The Pantry was up and running, he was then asked to lead the newly formed coalition and oversee the distribution of the disaster response fund. After weeks of fundraising through February and March, the Coalition raised around $650,000, surpassing their $500,000 goal, for long-term flood response efforts. On March 1st the ‘Abbotsford Disaster Response Coalition’ started accepting applications from those seeking aid. “In both of my roles,” shared Walker, “the exciting part is meeting those who have been affected, hearing their stories and having the opportunity to deliver some good news to otherwise devastated folks.”

“The Pantry” partners with Archway Food Bank and receives generous donations from church and community members to offer a variety of soups, pasta, cereal, snack items, personal hygiene supplies as well as formula, diapers and more. 

By mid-April, the coalition had received just under 100 applications for assistance from flood relief. Their team of 10 people go through each application, treating each applicant with dignity and respect and on a one-on-one basis. “It has been a blessing as well as an eye-opener to hear what some folks have gone through during the November flood,” Veeneman shared. “We have been blessed by connecting with a large local furniture and appliance franchise. They have told us they will help and do whatever it takes to help those who were affected by the flood, with their store manager working personally with folks that come in and offering all furniture and appliances on sale!” The store also offered to store appliances and/or furniture for as long as families needed. 

From the onset of flood relief, the Coalition has used ‘helping without harming’ principles when working with locals who need assistance. “This partnership with Leon’s is one more way we can offer people dignity and respect by allowing them to choose what they need and not treating them like a charity case.”

Those who have applied are humbled and grateful for the Coalition: 

  • A 70-year-old single woman had filled out the application 3 times, ripping each one up because she thought there were others in much worse shape than she was. Her entire home was destroyed during the flood and she lost most of her belongings, furniture, appliances, and is still not able to return home because of the repairs that need to be done. She applied for funds to replace appliances and only wanted some modest furniture.
  • A husband and wife, who are chicken farmers, lost their entire home which had just been extensively renovated 3 months prior to the flood. The home will have to be totally taken down and rebuilt, as there was 8 feet of water in the house at the height of the flood. They have been living in a suite above their garage since November. They were approved for funds to replace appliances and furniture. 
  • A local dairy farmer, who had many migrant workers that he employed, lost 3 homes that housed them. The migrant workers had to flee the flooding with only the essentials that they could carry down the road. They were rescued by boat after spending a few hours in the dark and heavy rain. They have found housing at a local hotel and are still waiting to move back into their homes. The farmer has been approved for funding to replace furniture and appliances.
  • A long-time crop farmer who has lived in the same home for 50 years lost everything. His family home, farming equipment, the crops, some outbuildings. He also applied for relief funds to help get his farm up and running again, if possible.

Walker said there are many more stories of resilience and gratitude. One couple who lost their entire home under 7 feet of water shared with him that the Lord had provided for them before the flood and they knew he would provide for them after the flood as well. Amazingly, this seems to be the attitude of the vast majority of those who have been affected by the flooding, Walker added. And, despite the ongoing challenges, a little bit of humour has even been shared. “Another one of those I visited with and provided aid to said that not only did he lose all his clothes and furniture, his false teeth also floated away!” Walker recalled.

Over these past weeks and months, Diaconal Ministries Canada, along with World Renew Canada, has been eager to assist deacons and churches in the Fraser Valley and surrounding areas as they support their local community. Disaster relief efforts in Canada have unfortunately been more prevalent in the last number of years and is an area both of these agencies are leaning into. Along with Veeneman, Rachel Vroege, Diaconal Ministries’ Regional Ministry Developer for Western Canada, has been heavily involved through this time of relief and recovery. The ADRC has also been blessed with several local partners: Living Hope CRC, Gateway Community CRC, Trinity CRC, Global Aid Network (GAiN) Canada, Abbotsford Disaster & Relief Resources, Abbotsford Community Foundation, Cornerstone CRC, New Life Church, Immanuel CRC (Langley), and Leon’s.

“Our team would not succeed without our partnerships,” Walker said. “I am particularly pleased to have deacons from the other Abbotsford CRC’s as well as those from Immanuel CRC in Langley. They bring a love of the Lord and a wealth of experience to the table. Their concern for those affected by the flood is so evident in all our conversations.”  Tuin agreed that it has been a huge blessing to see so many people and agencies working together and building relationships for a common goal.  “There is much to learn and the need is nowhere near over. The sense of community and collaboration is a huge positive that has grown from all this.”

The Coalition is overwhelmed by the prayers and the generosity of individuals, CRC’s from across the country, local corporations, and foundations – all of whom have made all of this work possible. Those who want to learn more about the flood relief efforts or who wish to help/donate can visit: https://gatewaycrc.org/flood-response

Over the past months, Diaconal Ministries Canada, along with World Renew Canada, have leaned into the understanding that doing natural disaster and crisis response work in Canada is quite different from doing this work in the US and in other parts of the world. Therefore a Disaster Research Consultant has been hired to write a “best practices report” and present this report to Diaconal Ministries and World Renew Disaster Response Services (DRS). This report will help us decide on how best to move this work forward here in Canada.

If you’d like to share your personal perspective and experience to help with this effort, please contact Erin Knight, our Communications Coordinator.