It has become a sad reality for many British Columbians that summer is equated with devastating fires, lost homes and livelihoods, and evacuations.
Supporting people in local communities is the heartbeat of United Way British Columbia’s work, and filling in gaps during a crisis has been a natural extension of the United Way BC’s work. In 2017 the United for BC Wildfire Recovery Fund was created in the Thompson Nicola Cariboo region of the province in response to a record-setting and devastating wildfire season. During the 2021 wildfires, and as a newly amalgamated organization, United Way BC relaunched this fund provincewide to support more than 5,000 people and 86 communities that were once again impacted by fires.
Under the Urgent Response program, United Way BC helps British Columbians impacted by crises: floods, wildfires, pandemics and, more recently, those arriving in B.C. fleeing war.
Making a difference
The organization’s long and trusted history working with local and provincial organizations and all levels of government means it can provide immediate assistance, like providing fuel to power backup generators or purchasing food and blankets, as well as longer term help that focuses on building resiliency.
When children and their families were living in hotels in the Okanagan after evacuation, it supported pop-up children’s camps that provided a safe and friendly environment for kids to escape the smoke and stress, make friends and get help. For those evacuated from Lytton, the Ashcroft HUB Society hosted community meals to helped them feel welcome and find assistance.
Bolstering existing regional food hubs and working with partners, United Way BC also provided food supplies to people impacted by the fires, as well as to emergency responders.
Donors make an impact
Throughout these emergencies, United Way BC donors have continued to step up and support the emergency funds that helps the organization provide new and additional support in the unfolding of each crisis.
It is currently working with local agencies, other charities and governments to see if and how it can come alongside residents and communities during this crisis. Taking the historical lessons and successes from previous efforts, United Way BC can anticipate how to best use your generosity to help neighbours.
Here for the long-term
The organization’s support also doesn’t stop when the immediate threat is over, though; it remains committed to helping these communities recover and build resiliency.
One of the things its partners flagged as a need was more mental health support. Through the Hi Neighbour program, which focuses on decreasing loneliness, isolation and disconnection from their communities, it hired local people with the relationships and expertise to best connect support services and partners with individuals with long-term needs.
Working with truth and reconciliation
The 2021 wildfires also continue to impact thousands of Indigenous people and their communities. From food security and community connection to mental health and healing needs, Indigenous communities have been severely impacted.
United Way BC is on its own truth and reconciliation journey as an organization; working to decolonize its own practices and processes, and to build genuine and authentic relationships with Indigenous communities. It is committed to continual learning while supporting the important work going on in these areas to help aid recovery and truly build inclusivity. It is only through this genuine collaboration and care for all neighbours that truly healthy, caring and inclusive communities can be created.
Here for neighbours
The last few years have truly demonstrated how resilient, passionate and dedicated B.C. communities are, as neighbours continue to support each other during traumatic and difficult times.
When people support United Way BC through donations or volunteering, they know they’re helping grassroots programs and services in real time that are coming to the aid of people impacted by crisis.
British Columbians want to be there for their neighbours, especially right now. Supporting United Way BC efforts through its fund is one way to do so. Donate today at uwbc.ca/wildfires.
Another way you can help is by volunteering. To see what opportunities are available, please visit ivolunteer.ca.
If you or a loved one are in need of assistance, are unsure of where to turn, or are suffering from the impacts of the fires, please call 211 British Columbia helpline by dialling 2-1-1 or visit BC WildFires | bc211. Staff members are ready to help you navigate resources and find assistance.