Monday November 15 started out as a “rain day” – Southern B.C.’s version of a snow day. Reports of roads flooding and mudslides throughout the city of Abbotsford prompted school and road closures across the region. Within hours, staff at Gateway Community Christian Reformed Church (CRC) began hearing about families in their church and broader community being flooded. Some were evacuating, others were stranded.
“My first thought was that the church needs to respond,” said Marcel deRegt, pastor of faith formation. He worked with other staff to create a list of people from Gateway in the flood zone: at least 30 percent of their congregation – approximately 60 families – were experiencing serious flooding and devastating loss of property.
As families fled their homes and farms, their immediate needs were temporary housing, food, water and clothing. The first call was to Archway Community Services, with whom Gateway already has a great partnership. They quickly responded with a large delivery of non-perishable food and personal items, and a promise to bring more.
“Donations were coming from the entire Lower Mainland of B.C., it was amazing to see all the people being so generous,” Eric Boucher, Caretaker of Facilities at Gateway, said. Administrative Assistant Carol Conway fielded many phone calls and emails and drop-ins to the church. “It was overwhelming to witness the amount of love and support and the desire to help pouring in from the entire community,” she said.
Pre-cooked frozen meals came pouring in from church members, along with coordinators who were able to get in and out of the flood zone to deliver them, prompting the need for more freezer space at the church. A call was put out on the church Facebook page, and within 15 minutes, four offers for freezers came in.
Meanwhile, Marcel coordinated logistics with youth ministry intern Jayden Tuin, who had evacuated with his family to the deRegt home. From the dining room table, cut off from Abbotsford by a closed highway, they continued arranging support for the growing number of needs that arose for the members of Gateway, including the youth of the church. Offers of basement suites, empty apartments and whole houses were found for displaced families. Work crews were assembled to go to each of the farms and homes to begin salvage and clean-up.
Offers of support and donations continued to come daily. News crews from across the country started asking for interviews, helping to spread the word and share the needs of the flood victims in the Sumas Prairie. Save-On Foods, one of the major grocery store chains in B.C., called and asked what was needed.
“Coffee. And cleaning supplies. That’s the need today.” Done. Delivery arranged for the next day.
Water was cut off to the flood zone. For the many families who stayed behind to take care of stranded animals, this became a problem. Again, the call was put out by the church on social media. Pallets of bottled water were soon delivered. Work crews began distributing it.
The need continues
Almost a month later, the Flood Response Center at Gateway continues to be busy every day, staffed by volunteers from the church who help organize the daily donations and welcome the guests who come to pick up what they need. Staff and volunteers are amazed every day at new offers of support and donations, from food and clothing to fresh meal kits and even brand-new furniture, along with generous financial contributions.
“Our goal is to continue as long as the need is there, which could be several months,” said Marcel, explaining that their system of personalized support, based on the individual needs that are identified by families, has been well-received. They are also coordinating their efforts with other flood response centers that have developed in the area, which enables them to meet specific needs in a timely fashion, and to reach beyond their own church members and into the broader community with the love and hope of Jesus.
“This is what it means to be the church,” Marcel continued, “to offer help and hope to a hurting world. We are privileged to be able to serve in this way.”
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