Carl, Meals on Wheels Volunteer

Photo Credit: Abbotsford Police Department 

Over COVID there was a metaphor explaining that everyone was in the same storm but experienced it differently, depending on their boat. During the BC flooding of November 2021, residents similarly faced the same storm but had very different experiences depending on the elevation of their homes and workplaces.

A series of weather events, including atmospheric rivers, led to the Sumas and Nooksack rivers overflowing and breaches in the Fraser Valley dike system. Throughout the province, major transportation routes were damaged leaving thousands stranded and supply routes severely disrupted. Some areas were under evacuation orders for weeks as the heavy rains and winter storms continued.

Residents of Sumas Prairie, located on the drained Semá:th Xo:tsa (Sumas Lake), suffered much of the damage but other neighbourhoods in Abbotsford also experienced flooding, mudslides and damage. Approximately 3,300 Abbotsford residents from more than 1,100 properties were evacuated at various times.

Faced with such a large-scale disaster, the community rallied and began to organize. In the early days, boat owners rescued stranded people and pets, farmers helped evacuate the livestock of their neighbours, and volunteer pilots made rescue flights. The City of Abbotsford, along with Emergency Support Services BC, set up an Emergency Reception Centre at Tradex which provided resources and shelter for those who couldn’t return home.

As the disaster continued, volunteers worked alongside the Canadian Army to build walls of sandbags to stave off more water as the heavy rains continued. City officials gave regular updates and aid organizations like the Red Cross became involved and administered financial aid payments of $2,000 to meet the immediate needs of the evacuees.

It was truly a community effort with Archway jumping in since the beginning. Archway continues to support those still affected and is also involved in long-range emergency planning.

“We are grateful for Mayor Braun, senior city officials, local First Nations, police and fire departments, countless volunteers and everyone who mobilized to action during this province-wide emergency,” said Rod Santiago, Central Executive Officer at Archway.

“So many community organizations, places of worship, businesses and individuals gave selflessly of their time and resources to make sure evacuees and those stranded had shelter, food and emergency support. We are proud to be a part of this generous and caring community.”

Carl, Meals on Wheels Volunteer

Flooded road near Recycling Depot.

“We are grateful for Mayor Braun, senior city officials, local First Nations, police and fire departments, countless volunteers and everyone who mobilized to action during this province-wide emergency.

Rod Santiago

CEO, Archway

The Initial Days

Archway’s existing partnerships, infrastructure and connections with thousands in the community allowed it to respond quickly in a number of ways.

The Senior Services department called clients to make sure they had resources and information as needed. While most did not live in the flood-affected areas, some were cut off from their normal support systems due to road closures and evacuations. To help ease the burden, Meals on Wheels provided affected participants with extra fresh and frozen meals.

The Archway Youth Resource Centre and Foundry Abbotsford provided clothes for youth affected during the flooding and youth were able to access walk-in mental health counselling at Foundry. Staff also arranged rides and support for youth disconnected from their homes and workplaces.

Immigrant Settlement support workers worked with clients who had to evacuate and connected them to additional resources as needed. The Community Connections program linked up affected clients with resources at the Food Bank and local churches.

The Cabin, a drop-in centre for the unhoused, opened early on November 16th after the heavy rain evacuated many individuals from their camps, and those living on the street found it impossible to stay dry and warm.

The Legal Advocacy for Agricultural Workers program began getting calls from farmworkers in the affected region as many lost belongings and their employment was at risk. Advocates were able to help the affected workers navigate the supports available and they supplied food and clothing for hundreds of farmworkers.

Staff helped temporary foreign workers apply for Employment Insurance and advocated for those living in multi-tenant housing to be eligible to receive financial assistance from the Red Cross.

The Archway Food Bank opened its doors to all those affected by the disaster, regardless of income. With so many donations coming in, staff had to scramble to find ways to properly store food and to quickly re-distribute and transport it to those in need. It was all hands on deck as the staff dealt with the increased distribution of food, gift cards and requests for emergency services. With the large influx of food donations, they were able to share truckloads, and even a helicopter full, of food with communities outside of Abbotsford.

The Family Centre and Best for Babies programs coordinated donations for families affected by flooding and disrupted supply chains. Staff picked up donations from the Food Bank and local hub Locality and distributed the diapers, wipes, formula and gift cards to their clients. They also arranged for a team of volunteers from a local church to help clear out the flooded basement of a family connected to their program.

Carl, Meals on Wheels Volunteer

Emergency Navigator Kim and Hester from the Crossroads Food Hub.

Carl, Meals on Wheels Volunteer

Inside the Emergency Shelter at Tradex.

A Community of Generosity

Donations for flood relief started coming in before Archway even had a chance to put out a call for help. There was a flurry of donations from across the province, country and even internationally that continued well into December.

“The generosity of donors allowed so many of our programs to meet the immediate needs of the community without worrying where the funds would come from to buy all the supplies,” said Louise Smith, Director of Operations. “The flood donations also enabled us to meet longer-term flood recovery needs in a variety of programs.”

Carl, Meals on Wheels Volunteer

Photo Credit: Abbotsford Police Department 

Ongoing Support

After the initial weeks of the disaster, the water subsided but left behind a trail of destruction. The flood wiped out land, buildings, workplaces, belongings and people’s sense of security.

Archway offered counselling for those affected at multiple locations including Foundry and on-site at the community flood hubs. The counselling was supported through grants from United Way of BC and the Abbotsford Disaster Relief fund. An art therapy group at Foundry was well received but the uptake on the other counselling services was lower than expected.

“One of the learnings we came away with was that people may not have the mental space to process the event right away as they deal with survival and practical matters,” said Simone Maassen, Manager of Youth Services.

“We continue to offer walk-in counselling for youth at the Foundry and through our Internal Counselling program.”

The Archway Food Bank has seen a persistent increase in the number of individuals accessing food months later. Just under 4,000 individuals accessed food in the first seven months of 2021, while over 6,000 have accessed food in the same period in 2022, representing a staggering 54% increase.

In addition to food, food bank staff have continued to distribute gift cards and coordinated donations of furniture to flood-affected families.

Flood donations were shared with three homeowners on the Matsqui First Nation who had not received other funding needed to replace drywall, carpet and furnaces damaged during the floods.

One of the learnings we came away with was that people may not have the mental space to process the event right away as they deal with survival and practical matters.”

Simone Maassen

Flood Resiliency Manger, Manager of Youth Services

Impact on Archway Staff and Buildings

Archway staff were among those directly affected, with some being evacuated or unable to get to work when some roads were shut down. The leadership team worked with staff to find remote work opportunities, offered emergency leave pay and counselling through the employee assistance plan.

While thankfully most of Archway’s buildings were out of the flooding area, access to the Abbotsford Recycling Depot was covered in several feet of water. Operations were closed for almost three weeks and some of the curbside recycling from Abbotsford and Mission had to be diverted to the Mission Recycling Depot and to New Westminster. When the plant opened again, staff worked extra hours to get through the tonnes of unprocessed recycling.

Another affected program was the Archway Urban Farm. At the end of October, soil, berry bushes and supplies were moved to their new location at Eco-Dairy on Sumas Way. During the flooding, their supplies floated all over the field and the soil was washed away. Many of the berry bushes died after the flood damage and most of the remaining plants couldn’t be planted in the saturated fields before the extended cold snap. Additionally, they were storing seeds and supplies in a greenhouse on Delair Road that were ruined after they became covered in several feet of water.

Their insurance hadn’t been fully transferred over to the new location and they were ineligible for some supports, so Archway flood funds were provided to replace their soil, allowing them to start planting crops in the springtime.

Carl, Meals on Wheels Volunteer

The flooded learning garden at the Abbotsford Recycling Depot.

Carl, Meals on Wheels Volunteer

Photo Credit: Abbotsford Police Department 

Community Collaboration

Several community groups created support centres where those affected by the flood could have a meal and obtain supplies or volunteer labour. These included the Gateway Community Church, Yarrow Food Hub, Crossroads Food Hub and Chilliwack Bowls of Hope.

“It was amazing to see how volunteers, pop-up services, and churches sprang into action, thereby ensuring that hundreds of households and farms had access to desperately needed supplies and services,” said Rod.

Archway supported these groups through food donations and meeting some of the practical needs. Archway’s Emergency Response Navigator distributed thousands of dollars worth of fuel, grocery and Visa cards to the centres, and directly to affected individuals. The Navigator also helped individuals find and apply for the supports available to them.

United Way of BC, the Canadian Red Cross and other organizations were also an integral part of the recovery effort who provided funds and on-the-ground support.

Archway helped facilitate community meetings and information sharing among organizations. Archway representatives were weekly participants in a community meeting that provided updates about flood-related resources and needs.

In one case, the Chilliwack Bowls of Hope identified households needing a microwave to heat the prepared food they gave out. Archway purchased 20 microwaves using funds they had received for flood relief for the organization to distribute.

Archway was one of several organizations who created a flood resources guide, which was hosted on the Archway website and updated regularly.

Caitlyn, an Archway client in the Best for Babies program, found it helpful to have the program coordinator Liz, “point our compass in the right direction” to various supports after they had to move out of their flooded house.

“We’re so thankful for all the businesses, groups, and individuals who gave generously to Archway and to other organizations to help our community recover from the flooding,” said Rod. “It was so encouraging to know we had the support of the country as we faced this natural disaster.”

Carl, Meals on Wheels Volunteer

The Abbotsford Canucks organization donated $250,000 towards flood relief efforts at Archway. 

L-R: Rob Mullowney, Canucks COO, and Janis and Jennifer from the Archway Philanthropy Team along with Archway CEO Rod 

Planning Ahead

Months later, individuals and organization are still rebuilding and recovering from the “once in a century” storm.

Archway is using the lessons learned from the flood to create future disaster relief plans and is making practical updates such as allocating funds for new freezers at the Archway Food Bank to store ready-made meals that could be accessed during emergencies.

“We know that prevention and risk mitigation are costly and complicated, however, the human and financial costs of not planning well and not learning from prior experiences are much higher,” said Rod.

Emergency Management BC and Archway are supporting the development of the City of Abbotsford’s People and Community pillar of their Emergency Management Plan which will help develop improvements for future disaster management locally.

Part of developing this plan includes a survey of flood-impacted residents to assess the successes and challenges resulting from the November flood response. The survey is being developed in conjunction with the UFV Community Health and Social Innovation (CHASI) hub.

To help coordinate the work on Archway’s end, a Flood Resiliency manager has been hired. The position is funded through the City of Abbotsford and the provincial Emergency Management BC.

“The survey will capture people’s experiences and they will help us plan and build back better,” said Yoriko Davidson, the Flood Resiliency Manger.

“The survey will reach out to those who received support already and we’ll also be looking for those who may have fallen through the cracks when they didn’t meet criteria for relief programs.”

“Disasters have a disproportionate impact on those already marginalized. To this day, so many people are having trouble finding their way back to stability,” said Rod. “Our disaster-relief planning must include ways to support financial, physical and mental health recovery in both the short-term and long-term.”

Looking back on the aftermath of the flooding, Rod remembers a time of chaos but also how it brought so many people together.

“Our community is pulling through because of the work of so many volunteers, organizations, businesses and government bodies. Once again, I’m amazed by our community’s resiliency and willingness to step up in times of need.”

Our community is pulling through because of the work of so many volunteers, organizations, businesses and government bodies. Once again, I’m amazed by our community’s resiliency and willingness to step up in times of need.”  

Yoriko Davidson

Flood Resiliency Manger

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