Getting supplies to the islands around Surge Narrows has never been easy as it usually requires:
• boat travel, often in bad weather, or darkness, or both
• a 45 minute drive down a twisty gravel road which is sometimes blocked with downed trees or unplowed snow
• a 15 minute ferry ride, which is usually preceded by a one or two hour wait in the ferry line- up
• a rush around town to acquire the many items on a list that is very long because the trip is too expensive to make often and daylight is limited
• repeat the first three steps in reverse for the return trip
• at each stage there is much heavy lifting from cart, to town vehicle, to dock (over a rough trail) and into boat, out of boat and up dock ramp to island vehicle and a dirt-road-drive, then finally to the house.
COVID came along to add another level of danger to the whole endeavour. We needed to have supplies brought in to the islands rather than everyone making individual trips to town. However, if each family had made their own shipping arrangements with town taxis and water taxis, the costs would have been discouragingly high. Also, making arrangements with the carriers and letting go of our familiar routine, (however uncomfortable!), was unattractive to many of us. The problem needed some simple coordination to keep the cost reasonable and to reduce the collective work load. We found that a few hours of physical work and a bit of bookkeeping by two or three volunteers each month is all it took to start and run the program.
We had several goals for the project:
• Reduction of risks from virus exposure and travel dangers
• Reduction of carbon emissions from private boats and autos
• Avoidance of physical injury, especially among elders, from too much hauling of heavy loads
• Improvement in nutrition through regular deliveries of fresh food
• Encourage acceptance of assistance with basic services among a fiercely independent, but a decreasingly self-sufficient, population of elders, so they might age in place.
Thanks to a pandemic and the increase in online ordering, the stores in Campbell River improved their web sites and new ordering/pickup procedures made it easier for island folks to place orders. Anyone without internet or skills could ask a neighbour or homecare worker to order for them. As the merchants became familiar with our Surge-group orders, they were able to marshal all our orders, so they were ready for collection by the same cab. The cab company and the water taxi booked us on at regular bi-monthly intervals.
Cost was still a barrier, although that was more psychological than actual if folks did the arithmetic and factored in the value of their time. The grant from the Campbell River Community Foundation was a big help in getting over this impediment, helping our people to experience the value of grocery delivery and establishing their habit of using the service.
As word has spread, the number of participants has increased with each delivery, and been maintained even though the grant assistance has ended and we have started to receive bills for shipping. We now have twelve households participating regularly and six others use the service occasionally. We expect these numbers to double in the summer when the population increases. The homecare service also receives food bank supplies from Healthy Way. Over the winter, we
have scheduled deliveries for every other week but expect that to increase to weekly during the summer with more customers.
The large water taxi is a more seaworthy craft than any of our private boats and still makes its scheduled runs when the weather is too bad for smaller boats, or even for the mail plane, so our deliveries have been very regular. Over Christmas and New Years, the scheduled runs unfortunately fell on stat holidays. We had not anticipated that problem so we were unable to receive groceries or use a portion of the grant during the time window we had originally planned for. Therefore, the grant extended the shipping coverage until mid-January.
Each family’s order is weighed, sorted and stacked in its own area on the dock, where it can be picked up without contact with the workers or others. COVID distancing, hand sanitising and mask wearing are practiced by everyone involved. Our community has been very conscientious in this regard and the Post Master, who runs the Post-Office-on-the-dock has been a big help in training us all in COVID protocols and setting out distancing markers and sanitizing supplies.
Grocery day, when the water taxi arrives at the Surge dock and people come to pick up their orders, has turned into a good, and much-needed, outdoor social opportunity. On their way to the dock, folks stop to chat on the road or wharf where there is ample space to distance.
We are very grateful for the Neighbourhood Small Grant Program, which gave a wonderful boost to this initiative and helped prove its viability. We hope to continue the service, with an all- volunteer crew, well into the future.