(photo: surreyhospice.com)

As thrift store aims to reopen, Surrey Hospice Society struggles to raise funds

‘Right now I think people are suffering grief more than they ever have’

With several fundraising events either cancelled or postponed, its two thrift stores closed and the demand for grief-support services at an all-time high, these are difficult days for Surrey Hospice Society.

The COVID-19 pandemic has radically changed the way the non-profit organization achieves its goal of offering support to those facing an end-of-life experience.

“Right now I think people are suffering grief more than they ever have, and they might not fully understand that’s what they’re feeling,” said Rebecca Smith, executive director of Surrey Hospice Society.

“People are grieving the loss of all sorts of things – the personal liberty to go out and do whatever they want, also people dying and fear, too, all these things related to grief. And we’re getting more calls about that than ever before.”

Established in the mid-1980s, the volunteer-based society offers a wide variety of services and programs for hospice and palliative support, as well as grief support for adults, children and youth, free of charge, supporting those both facing a terminal illness and people who have lost loved ones.

“We’re a 35-year-old society, and to my knowledge we’ve never faced anything like this,” Smith said. “We’re desperately looking for grants and donations and opportunities to maximize input. And we also depend on donations from people who have lost loved ones through the hospice, in residence or the hospital, and our regular donations are even off. I guess they’re being redirected elsewhere or people are fearful of the economy and have cut back their philanthropy, we’re not sure. It’s a severe change for us. We get a gaming grant and another we get fairly annually, and other than that we’re desperately looking for funds.”

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As for fundraising events, the group’s St. Paddy’s Hoedown for Hospice was postponed, as was a new Show-and-Shine and Sock Hop planned for Cloverdale’s Elements Casino in July.

“We also depend on our two thrift stores, one in Newton (Surrey Hospice Society & Surrey Fire Fighters Charitable Society Community Thrift Store) and the other in Cloverdale (The Toolbox), and both have been closed since March 15,” Smith noted.

“We are really off our fundraising, and at this point we are down around 45 or 50 per cent of our revenues for the year. We are dependent at this point on the federal wage subsidies and the rental help, if we can get our landlords on-board to go with those, that’s what’s going to keep us afloat to get through this.”

On Wednesday (June 3), Smith said once new health and safety measures are in place, the community thrift store in Newton should be reopened by the end of this week, followed by Cloverdale’s The Toolbox at a later date.

Meantime, the organization’s counsellors are offering supports via phone and also an online platform.

In early May, an annual event designed to help those triggered by Mother’s Day – those having lost a mother or are grieving – went live on the group’s Facebook page. A similar event timed with Father’s Day will also be held on the social-media website.

“It’s interesting,” Smith said, “because when we do the event in person, there’s limited space, and we usually top out at around 20 people.

“This year, we had well over 65 people participate online for the Mother’s Day event. They don’t have to leave their home and they don’t have to worry about over-sharing or over-emoting in a group setting, for people who are uncomfortable with that. Online, it has a wider reach.”

As “companions for the journey,” Surrey Hospice Society believes that nobody should face a life-ending experience alone, and that no one should be alone with their grief.

A team of volunteers visit daily on the Palliative Care and Tertiary Units at Surrey Memorial Hospital and the Laurel Place Residence. They augment the professional care and support provided by medical and hospital staff.

“We have not been able to be in the residential hospice or in the hospital to deliver that part of our mission, to make sure that nobody ever dies alone,” Smith said, “and I can tell you that I have been personally emotionally affected by our being barred for that. And we’ve been barred because of infection-control measures on the hospital side, and I fully understand that, but there is a personal, emotional, spiritual need – we’re not just physical beings.

“So the fact that people have been alone in their moment of passing, it’s something that deeply grieves me, personally,” Smith added.

“And I know our volunteers have been desperate to get back in there. There has been some light in terms of allowing us back in, although I’m not sure about the date. We’re in negotiations for that.”

Volunteer training opportunities, services, events and more are detailed at surreyhospice.com and also facebook.com/SurreyHospice.

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