Amid an unprecedented pandemic, the Fraser Valley experienced unprecedented flooding in November 2021. Residents watched helplessly as their residences and businesses filled with water. As thousands of residents were suddenly evacuated and cut off from their workplaces and loved ones, hundreds turned to the Archway Food Bank for basic provisions and non-perishable food items.

With the flooding came disruptions to supply chains which caused food shortages. For those already accessing the Food Bank anxieties were running high as reserves of food and resources to travel to other towns to purchase supplies are often out of reach.

The scale and suddenness of the disaster caught everyone off guard, including the Archway Food Bank. With hundreds of individuals facing food insecurity, staff weren’t sure if they could meet the increased need for food.

Staff were also worried about supply chain disruptions as roads across the province collapsed and there were reduced fresh food donations from local grocery stores and farmers.

Those already accessing the Food Bank were anxious as many did not have the ability to travel to other towns to to purchase supplies and they didn’t have much reserve food.

Additionally, some of the Food Bank’s own staff were being directly affected by the flooding.

But just when things seemed overwhelming, something miraculous happened — the power of community.

Donations started coming in before the Food Bank even had a chance to ask for help. Then after a single email and some social posts explaining the need, there was an outpouring of generosity and donations.

“We saw donations from all over the province, country and even globally!” exclaimed Rod Santiago, Archway’s Central Executive Officer. “People and organizations were calling to see how they could help, including offers of food by the truckload.”

“At the height of the flooding, we were overwhelmed by the community’s generosity,” said Rebecca Thuro, a Food Bank Supervisor.

“It was all hands-on deck and I am so grateful for our staff, volunteers and donors — the way they really rose to the occasion. We lovingly called it organized chaos.”

Donations were so plentiful that the Food Bank acted as a hub, redistributing donations along broken supply chains to cut-off communities like Agassiz, Hope and Chilliwack.

Through Food Banks BC, staff learned that the Boston Bar Food Bank was precariously low on food supplies for the daily hot meals they were providing to 500 community members. Clearway Rentals secured a private chartered helicopter, which delivered 1,200 lbs of frozen meat from the Archway Food Bank. An additional 10,000 lbs of non-perishables were then sent via truck after obtaining approval from the Ministry of Transportation.

“We saw donations from all over the province, country and even globally!”

Rod Santiago

CEO, Archway

Herb, Meals on Wheels client

Some of the donations dropped off at Archway during the flooding.

Herb, Meals on Wheels client

Boston Bar residents with food from the Archway Food bank and Locality delivered by Clearway Rentals.

Spreading Joy at Christmas

For many families, Christmas is normally a time of joy, but coming right on the heels of a natural disaster, it was a difficult time for many in Abbotsford. Individuals that are already marginalized are the most impacted in disasters and some families were unable to afford the extra holiday expenses.

Fortunately, the community’s generosity extended into December. Despite being the busiest Christmas that the Food Bank has ever seen in its history, they were able to meet the increased need.

1,020 families received a Christmas hamper through the Christmas Bureau, which was 371 more families than the previous year.

The Christmas Bureau also coordinates a matching program where individuals, families and organizations can sponsor a family or senior. The sponsors provide Christmas dinner supplies and gifts for their matched family and deliver directly to their door.

A sponsored family shared that, “we had nothing prepared for Christmas as we were displaced from our home due to the flooding. Our sponsor family completely changed what felt like a disaster into a wonderful, joyous time for my husband, myself and our children.”

1,865 children received a gift under the tree that their parents had chosen from the Christmas Bureau toy shop.

A majority of the toys are donated at the annual Toys for Tot event, which was planned for November 26th, the week after the flooding started. The original location was flooded but fortunately the Canucks organization stepped up and hosted the event at the Abbotsford Sports Centre.

Despite the ongoing flooding, highway closures, a last-minute location change and a new drive-thru format due to COVID, more than 1,500 toys were donated.

“We were amazed and surprised at how many people still took the time to purchase and drop off a toy so others could have a better Christmas,” said Rebecca.

“Without our community, we would not have been able to survive that November – and then Christmas. The community really rallied around us and made sure that we made it to the other side of 2021, with food to spare.”

The response to the Fraser Valley floods showed just how supportive the community is, something that the Food Bank relies on as the majority of its funding comes from donations.

Herb, Meals on Wheels client

Some of toys available at the Christmas Bureau.

“Without our community, we would not have been able to survive that November – and then Christmas. The community really rallied around us and made sure that we made it to the other side of 2021, with food to spare.” 

Rebecca Thuro

Food Bank Supervisor

Continued Food Insecurity

To this day, the Food Bank is experiencing an increased number of individuals accessing the food bank and Starfish Packs since the flooding and the start of pandemic. In the first seven months of 2022 more than 6,000 individuals accessed food, a 54% increase from the same time period in 2021.

“If two unprecedented events weren’t enough, Abbotsford residents are also facing the rising costs of groceries, gas and housing,” said George Carter, the Food Access Supervisor.

“When it’s all combined, it’s led a lot of families to a tipping point, where they just can’t make ends meet no matter how hard they try.”

“Whatever it is that brings individuals to the food bank, we’re here to help. Together we are resilient and can overcome almost anything.”

Herb, Meals on Wheels client

Food bank volunteers and staff holding donations.

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