COLUMN: Building community without gathering

As with so many of you, the sudden public health restrictions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic came as a slowly unfolding shock. Over the course of a week and a half, my own little world was turned upside down by events in the bigger one we all share.

As Alex House’s community programmer, my job is to gather people together in order to reduce social isolation, increase participation, and so build a healthier and stronger community, one neighbourhood at a time. But when people can’t gather, how is community possible? Community is not only possible at a time like this, it is more vital than ever.

We are quickly discovering just how much we rely on one another for support and caring in difficult times. I’m reminded of my parents and their generation; who lived through relief camps, ration cards, and loved ones killed on foreign shores. And through those times, the best of humanity shone through – whether it was in scrap metal drives, victory gardens, or neighbour networks to support the bereaved.

Like so many other organizations, Alex House has quickly mobilized for action. We have established Community Caring Circles to provide support for those who are self-isolating due to travel or exposure, age, or a medical condition. Volunteers are assigned to six-person helper teams, who recruit or are referred to individuals needing support to remain at home.

That support could be picking up groceries or prescriptions, mailing a letter, walking the dog, or just making a friendly phone call. This service is available to residents of Surrey and White Rock, living south of Highway 10 and west of Highway 15.

If you need help, or would like to offer your time to support your neighbours to remain home, find out more and apply at www.alexhouse.net/community-caring-circles

Our two community gardens have stepped up to provide assistance to Sources Food Bank during a time of increased need. A dozen of our plots have been repurposed to grow produce to share with neighbours. If you’d like to support your neighbours’ nutritional needs, check out www.sourcesbc.ca/our-services/sources-white-rock-south-surrey-food-bank/

How can you help build community during a time of self-isolation?

Maybe you have an idea for an online concert or webinar. Maybe you want to organize a food bank drive for your neighbourhood. Maybe you want to create online coffee chats. We are repurposing our Neighbourhood Small Grants program to support projects which respond to the challenges of COVID-19. All proposed projects must respect the guidelines around gathering and social distancing. Projects are eligible for up to $500 in support.

Go to www.neighbourhoodsmallgrants.ca to find out more and apply.

Friends, stay safe during this time; and – like you – I look forward to a time when we may gather in person again!

Neil Fernyhough is manager of Alexandra Neighbourhood House’s community programs. For information on programs or services at Camp Alexandra, call 604-535-0015 or go to www.alexhouse.net

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