In the face of flooding disaster, Yarrow residents mobilized to look out for each other

·2 min read
Volunteers filling sandbags to deliver to farms in Yarrow on Nov. 19.  (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
Volunteers filling sandbags to deliver to farms in Yarrow on Nov. 19. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

When rising waters began gushing into Fraser Valley properties last week, the community of Yarrow in Chilliwack, B.C., was quick to mobilize.

As the floods deepened on the neighbouring Sumas Prairie in Abbotsford and spilled into Yarrow — and in the absence of an official plan from the City of Chilliwack, the province or the federal government — more than a hundred people showed up to fill and deliver sandbags that would help protect their neighbours' livelihoods.

In the immediate aftermath of the floods, with supply chains choked by damaged infrastructure on major highways, there was a grocery shortage in Yarrow. Within a day, the community established a food bank.

"If anybody needs anything you can walk in there and come out with eggs and milk and produce," said Shawn Vickar, a pastor at Yarrow Alliance Church.

Now, recognizing the ongoing needs of those affected by the floods and the ongoing willingness of the community to volunteer their time and skills, four local churches have launched the Flood Relief Community Care Centre in Yarrow to create a local database of volunteers and resources.

"This is not our area of expertise on any level, but we are doing what we can and we're excited to see how the community has been so participatory," said Vickar, one of the relief centre organizers.

"What we really needed to do was begin to streamline and collectively work together … to help get resources focused because things were quite scattered, as Week 1 of a natural disaster would be."

In its first two days, the relief centre has already had hundreds of people come forward as volunteers. The centre offers access to resources such as lodging, help with physical labour, childcare, counselling and the food bank, among other services.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

For the people of Yarrow, the notion of neighbours helping neighbours is par for the course.

"This is very much the fruit of the last 50 years of our elders trying to maintain this culture in Yarrow of people caring for each other," said Darnell Barkman, a pastor at Yarrow United Mennonite Church and a relief centre organizer.

He remembers how one family — whose own farm had been completely flooded — bought platters of sandwiches for volunteers who were busy trying to save another farm, despite the devastation they had personally experienced.

"You walk down the street and thank people for volunteering and they will say 'well, this is what we do in Yarrow.'"

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

As the water begins to rescind and the imminent danger subsides, both Vickar and Barkman agree that some of the hardest work — the recovery — still lies ahead.

But with hundreds of volunteers in the system, they are confident the community of Yarrow will persevere.

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