Alexandra Neighbourhood House. (File photo)

South Surrey’s Alexandra House ‘caring circles’ help vulnerable

Volunteer program has assisted shut-ins during quarantine

The Community Caring Circles network, operating out of Alexandra Neighbourhood House in Crescent Beach, is another example of how volunteers have stepped up to help vulnerable and quarantined people stay at home during the COVID-19 era.

Community programs manager Neil Fernyhough told Peace Arch News that he and volunteer helper teams have been anything but idle since the pandemic became a health emergency – and the need for volunteers will likely increase as the neighbourhood house becomes one of the centres for a new White Rock and South Surrey food distribution project being funded by the United Way.

“The Caring Circles came about in mid-March after the provincial health office was advising people to stay at home,” Fernyhough said. “My first thought was ‘I won’t have any programs to offer.’

“Then I thought that a lot of people are going to be sheltering at home and would probably need help – as it turned out a lot of people in the community had the same idea at the same time.”

Fernyhough theorized that six-member volunteer helper teams – or caring circles – would probably be best placed to respond to the need.

“It was just a number I picked out of the air – not too large and not too small,” he said.

“I thought each team would be able to take care of a maximum of 20 recipients, although the need has not reached that high.”

Volunteers simply had to be prepared to deal with everyday errands, he added – “getting groceries, mailing a letter, walking the dog, things like that.”

Fernyhough said he was pleasantly surprised how quickly the initiative came together as soon as he put the word out.

“Within a week and a half we had four groups of six – 24 volunteers in all,” he said.

“Many of them were people who were already volunteering for us, but there were also people I’d never heard from before.

“A lot were professionals who had been commuting to Vancouver and were looking for something to get them out of the house – and they also wanted to give back.”

The program, as well as running errands, is also about offering support, Fernyhough said.

“Sometimes the most important thing is the weekly call or check-in,” he said.

“Most of the requests have been about what you’d conceivably expect – the only things outside of that have been when there has been a misunderstanding about the scope of what we could offer, like being able to access more extensive services, but we’re happy to provide referrals.

“All of this is being done through our core budget – so donations would be helpful,” he added.

And while the Caring Circles teams are fully staffed at present, the neighbourhood house always has a need to enlarge the pool of volunteers, Fernyhough said.

That’s particularly true now that it is to become a distribution centre for Seeds of Change, a Fraser Health stakeholders table focused on food security in the Surrey and White Rock area, and formerly known as the Food Action Coalition.

Thanks to funding from the United Way, Seeds of Change is now in a position to distribute food at 10 sites in Surrey, Fernyhough said, although details are still being finalized.

Some of that food will be coming from Alexandra Neighbourhood House’s two community gardens, he noted.

“Since people haven’t been applying for garden plots since the pandemic started, we’ve put aside 10 plots that are providing produce that is currently going to the SOURCES Food Bank – but once the Seeds of Change program starts up we’ll be looking to redirect it there.”

For more information on receiving Caring Circle services – or becoming a volunteer – visit the neighbourhood house’s website at www.alexhouse.net

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