Valemount’s Robson Valley Community Services continues to aid the community
Not long ago, the community garden in Valemount was in much need of a makeover and a new purpose. Now, thanks to major volunteer support and some Trust funding, it sports tidy, easily accessible raised beds that have enabled Robson Valley Community Services (RVCS) to help increase food security in the community while distributing free, fresh produce to people in need.
“We rebuilt the community garden,” Executive Director Lina Thompson says with pride—an important step in an isolated community where food can be expensive and of limited availability, particularly during COVID-19. Into the future, volunteers will tend the garden or people can ask to reserve a plot of their own. “It’s one of the things I think our staff are most emotional about.”
That’s saying a lot, since the organization has undertaken an impressive number of initiatives since the pandemic began, all to support a range of people who require varying types and levels of assistance. These were made possible by COVID-19 social response funding from the Trust—intended to help community social service agencies maintain, enhance and adapt their services during the pandemic—plus the input of many partners and volunteers and the non-profit’s 28 staff.
Throughout the crisis, RVCS has been committed to continuing its usual programs and services, which support everyone from infants to seniors on issues like mental health, anti-violence and literacy.
Many of these services went virtual.
For example, RVCS was able to offer preschool online to Valemount children at no charge. To help children who otherwise would not be able to go to school digitally, Thompson says, “We provided a significant number of Chromebooks. We also had some donations of used laptops, tablets and cell phones, which we were able to refurbish.” RVCS also started an anonymous, virtual chat for anyone who needed support.
In addition, the organization provided food to seniors and families, and not just from the community garden. It purchased Easter dinner and other meals from local restaurants and distributed them to those in need. Working with a spa that had closed, the organization assembled hygiene kits to give out. To support the healthy development of young children isolated at home, it also made packages for families with items like scissors, crayons, a ruler and cards showing yoga poses for kids.
To support the healthy development of young children isolated at home, RVCS also made packages for families with items like scissors, crayons, a ruler and cards showing yoga poses for kids.
To help maintain the mental well-being of isolated seniors who couldn’t easily connect with friends and loved ones for safety reasons, RVCS kept up their spirits by visiting seniors and ensuring they had access to essential services. One way RVCS staff helped encourage social interaction was showing how they could play “window games.” Thompson says, “We’d make a tic-tac-toe and we’d have a person on the outside of the window and erasable markers and we’d play games with seniors who were homebound.”
The organization also helped distribute nearly 1,000 masks, made by volunteers. Heather Funk was one of these volunteers. As someone whose family has benefited from RVCS services, she says, “I was happy to be helping the community. Lina knew I sewed and was out of work due to COVID-19 and she approached me and asked if I’d be interested.” She was able to donate a lot of her own fabric, including cotton from children’s clothes. One key piece of feedback from the community: “They like the funky fabrics,” she says.\
RVCS also added plexiglass in its Valemount office so staff could safely return to work when the time was right—and this meant all staff. “Because of increased needs in the community due to COVID-19 and thanks to the Trust’s funding, I had two layoffs that we recalled within 30 days,” Thompson says. “So out of all our employees, we did not lose any jobs.” In a community with few options for employment, this is a significant feat, plus it kept up the roster of staff needed for RVCS to provide essential services during the pandemic. Thompson also notes that the number of volunteers rose greatly during this trying time—as did the number of people reaching out for support. “People didn’t realize maybe what RVCS did for the community until they were forced with the reality that they couldn’t leave their homes.”