Year in Review: The second quarter

·13 min read

APRIL

With more residents having either had their work hours cut back or lost their jobs entirely, the Richmond Food Bank anticipated the number of residents using its services weekly to feed their families would swell. Food donations of nutritious, unopened, non-perishable items can be dropped off at the main location (100-5800 Cedarbridge Way) or in the food bank bin at your local grocery store. The food bank also welcomes cash donations.

The Reverend Paula Porter Leggett, vicar at St. Alban’s Anglican Church in Richmond, offered reassurance to those struggling to deal with the pandemic.

“At our core we are a community of people who gather as we live out our love of God and love of neighbour. When someone is feeling low, or we can’t get together, it (impacts) profoundly what being part of a faith community is all about.” Also of paramount concern is the plight of those individuals who are hungry and poor, and lacking access to usual services. “We have to trust in God and not be anxious or fearful because we are not alone in this. In the community of faith we are with one another,” she said.

The RAPS Animal Hospital, a full-service, not-for-profit veterinary facility located in Richmond, offered financial supports for pets in households affected economically by the current health emergency related to coronavirus disease.

An important habitat for many species, Sturgeon Banks became a hot topic at city council as the proposed site of the South Arm Jetty Tidal Marsh project. The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority submitted an application to obtain a 30-year lease for the land in order to convert sand flat into marsh habitat. In an early March report, city staff recommended that council endorse the port authority’s application. But upon discussion, many city councillors voiced their opposition to the project. Coun. Michael Wolfe noted that the area is designated as a Ramsar site—an internationally important wetland site—and was named Canada’s No. 1 important bird area. He requested that the port authority consider an alternative site, since the area already provides a habitat for a number of species.

Among many who were exiled from Uganda in 1972, Pyarali Nanji and his family found a welcome refuge in Canada. They have been giving back ever since, stepping up in the spring to donate $100,000 to Richmond Hospital, inspiring others to also give to the COVID-19 Response Fund.

Calling these “unprecedented times,” Tourism Richmond CEO Nancy Small said the industry was hit hard by the pandemic. She noted the hotel association estimated two-thirds of the hotels in the province would be closed for months. As hotels closed, some were redeployed for emergency workers.

During the pandemic, Richmond Cares, Richmond Gives (RCRG) stepped up even more. The community’s hub for volunteering and giving, RCRG was designated one of 24 agencies across the province to be a COVID-19 response for seniors. This means providing additional services, while continuing to upgrade existing services, according to RCRG president and CEO Ed Gavsie. “It’s all part of the 2-1-1 plan,” he explained.

A Richmond teen used his talents—and home shed—to print 3D face shields for use by doctors all over the United States. Burnett Secondary student Sean Uy’s uncle is a cardiologist in California. Through his uncle, Uy heard about the limited personal protective equipment available in hospitals.

Richmond Public Library also made use of its 3D printers to collaborate with local 3D supplier shop3d.ca to get Richmond-produced face shields to frontline medical workers.

“Library staff are grateful to those working each day to keep our communities running and healthy,” said Cindy Ho, head of digital learning services.

A brilliant star dimmed as longtime Richmond entertainer Sibel Thrasher died April 9 at age 70.

“Singing is good for the soul,” Thrasher once said. “As long as I can make somebody smile, it’s worth coming out.”

Originally from Cincinnati, Thrasher came to Vancouver in 1985 with the singing group The Platters, famous for songs such as “Only You” and “The Great Pretender.” In a 2017 interview she said her stay was originally meant to be only a month, but she didn’t want to leave. Ever elegant, Thrasher entertained across the Lower Mainland in many shows and enjoyed performing in local venues, like the Gulf of Georgia Cannery and the ANAF club in Steveston.

Richmond manufacturing pharmacist Darryl Segal welcomes the opportunity to give back, but didn’t expect it to be on such a grand scale last spring. When the president of natural hair and skincare company Herbal Glo learned that local stores had run out of hand sanitizer he took it upon himself and his company to begin making their own.

Local seafood company Organic Ocean, created and run by experienced fishers, previously only sold their seafood to restaurants. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, they wanted to avoid laying off staff and shutting operations down. So Organic Ocean pivoted and began selling to the community—at the same wholesale price that distributors pay.

Even in these extraordinary times, the Richmond School District remains committed to ensuring its most vulnerable students and their families are fed through the Feed-U-Cate 38 program. Members of CUPE Local 716 were quick to answer the call, supporting the food program with a $547 donation.

“This year we wanted to donate a little more because of the pressing needs in the community caused by the pandemic,” said CUPE 716 president Ian Hillman. “Our district’s program is important to students and families and we are pleased to support it.”

MAY

Richmond introduced a new resource guide for people experiencing homelessness during the pandemic. Developed in collaboration with various community partners, it is available through service providers across Richmond and online and includes meal programs, counselling, crisis lines, bathroom and shower facilities.

During her Grade 12 year at Richmond High, Rita Jin found time between her studies to play the piano and trumpet, serve as student council vice-president, play on the school’s ultimate frisbee and volleyball teams, earn a Bronze Cross in swimming, fly a glider, and lead the Free the Children team at WE Day. Academically, she also completed three advanced placement courses on top of the challenging International Baccalaureate program, while maintaining a 90 per cent average. Her relentless pursuit of challenges earned her a Schulich STEM scholarship worth $80,000. The prestigious leadership scholarships are among Canada’s most coveted undergraduate honours.

Like other industries heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the fishing industry had to make some changes. Fisheries and Oceans Canada collaborated with the federal government to ensure Canadian fisheries and aquaculture sectors received necessary supports to continue providing food, according to department representative Lauren Girdler. In Steveston, a historic fishing village, commercial fishers are still heading out with their boats and selling their catch to people looking for local seafood.

As the COVID-19 crisis continued to dramatically impact the aviation industry, Vancouver International Airport was forced to make some difficult decisions. Forecasting less passenger traffic for some time, the airport’s workforce was significantly reduced.

Reeling from the financial effects of COVID-19, the airline industry also sought government help.

“With respect to aviation and aerospace, the (federal) government continues to be committed to their top priorities of the safety and security of Canadians and Canada’s transportation system,” said BC Aviation Council chair Heather Bell. “That said, we are seeing a nimbleness and flexibility within government that is unprecedented.”

Chris Lam has his sights set on a career as a paramedic. Right now, the Burnett secondary student’s focus is on helping save lives another way—by making personal protective equipment. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lam and fellow Grade 12 students at the Richmond school were kept busy— between online learning—churning out ear savers and protective face shields. Using futuristic 3D technology, Lam and his colleagues in the robotics club donated more than 300 of the highly-coveted PPE items to local care homes, Richmond Hospital, Vancouver General Hospital, Coast Mountain Bus Company and several care homes in Manitoba.

The founder of Canada’s largest Canadian-Asian grocery retailer T&T Supermarket made an $80,000 donation to Richmond Hospital Foundation’s COVID-19 Response Fund.

“I believe that human life is priceless. During this difficult time everyone should work together to contribute to their community in whatever way they can,” said Cindy Lee. “From helping your neighbour to donating to the local hospital, we can overcome this crisis together.”

Bayne Koen came full circle when he was introduced as the new bench boss of the Richmond Sockeyes, the same junior hockey team with which his coaching career began as an assistant in the early 2000s.

“It’s exciting to be back where it all started,” he said, taking a moment to reflect on the journey that began under the tutelage of Ron Johnson. “Ron was a big part of me getting into the coaching world. I also played for him, and one of the things he taught me was patience and process. He had a very unique way of looking at the game, the skills and tactics, and taught me a lot of the stuff I still used to this day.”

The Richmond Music School hasn’t stopped creating music during the COVID-19 pandemic, and has even come up with some new ideas. Since mid-March, the school began offering online lessons for many instruments, including piano, violin, guitar, ukulele, flute and voice.

“I hope that people will take this opportunity to connect with music, and to try something new, like learning an instrument,” said principal Meghan Verdejo, adding that the convenience of learning from home can be an advantage. Online lessons can also provide some much-needed structure during these unpredictable times, said Verdejo.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Richmond city council began largely meeting via video-conference. Even with technical glitches, Mayor Malcolm Brodie said he though council was “still able to get through the business fairly efficiently.”

Amid a difficult time for the aviation industry, Vancouver Airport Authority appointed a new president and CEO. Tamara Vrooman, who spent 13 years in the same role at Vancity, Canada’s largest community credit union, took the post effective July 1, becoming the first woman to lead the organization. Prior to working with Vancity, Vrooman was BC’s deputy finance minister. She was recognized with the Order of British Columbia in 2019.

Greta Thunberg may be the best-known of the young environmentalists, but she’s hardly a lone wolf. All over the world, members of Gen-Z (those born after 2000) are dedicating themselves to finding solutions for a better tomorrow. Co-presidents of the Richmond High Green Team, Wonhee Choi and Edward Zhang guided their team of students in the installing of solar panels at the school, a project that included educating peers and the local community about sustainable energy. As part of renowned Canadian scientist and environmentalist David Suzuki’s Butterflyway Project, the Green Team members also implemented a pollinator-friendly garden to provide habitat and food for bees and butterflies. In collaboration with Richmond High’s life skills students, they also weaved nests out of invasive plants, and worked with the school’s art club to paint murals spreading awareness about ocean sustainability.

On May 8, Quilchena elementary students were able to wave to their teachers during the school’s “car parade”.

“We have a small catchment area and a really tight community here,” said principal Kirsten Wallace. A staff member proposed the parade after seeing something similar at her son’s school. Kids were asked to stay on the sidewalk outside their houses, and staff arrived at the school in cars, some with their own family members. Of the 185 students, Wallace estimates that 50 live outside the catchment area—and those students were encouraged to stand along the parade route to cheer and wave from a distance.

A new website launched May 14 to connect Richmond residents and businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. WeAreRichmondBC.ca is a collaboration between Tourism Richmond, Economic Development Richmond and the Richmond Chamber of Commerce. It aims to drive economic recovery and encourage community support.

A longtime donor to the Richmond Hospital Foundation stepped forward yet again as the Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation of Canada donated $40,000 to Richmond Hospital Foundation’s COVID-19 Response Fund. Supporting healthcare in the community for the last 14 years, the foundation appreciated the urgent need due to the pandemic. The member funds will be used to help purchase two vital signs monitors. Earlier in the year, members also made a $28,000 donation to fund the hospital’s purchase of an external fixation for the orthopedic team. To date, the foundation has contributed nearly $500,000 in support of local health.

JUNE

Almost 60 city-owned playgrounds re-opened June 1 as part of the city’s restoration plan. Users are expected to wash their hands before and after use, avoid gathering in large groups in or around playgrounds and stay home if sick. Reopened playgrounds included Terra Nova Adventure Playground, Garden City Play Environment, Flight Path Park playground and all school district playgrounds.

Like many in the hospitality industry, Shane Dagan faced an uncertain future in June. His restaurant, the Steveston Seafood House, moved to a takeout-only model in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic but a few months later was able to re-open its doors.

“Our staff did a great job of maneuvering to our new style of take-out,” he said. “I’m also very grateful for the community support we received during those eight weeks. The response was overwhelming.”

The Seafood House donated $3,400 to the Richmond Food Bank to express Dagan’s gratitude to the community that kept them going.

Responding to the impact of COVID-19 and guided by founder JinBodhi’s spirit of compassion, Bodhi Meditation supported frontline heroes. Those recognized included Richmond Fire-Rescue first responders and healthcare workers. One thousand gowns, 500 pairs of goggles and 100,000 non-medical masks were donated to support health care workers’ efforts to protect the public and themselves.

Recognizing the power of sport, plans were afoot for a safe return to play. At the request of the province, and following a review by WorkSafeBC, viaSport introduced return to sport guidelines in accordance with BC’s phased-in restart program. They followed collaboration with the recreation sector and sport agencies.

The community mourned the loss of a respected community leader as Sardar Gurdial Singh Neel died June 7 at the age of 95. An extraordinary educator who gave freely of his time and helped to create cultural bridges, he resided in Richmond for the last 51 years.

A member of the Richmond Ravens family was named BC Female Coach of the Year. One of 17 individuals recognized nationally, Natalie Korenic was singled out by Hockey Canada for the honour. Coach of the Richmond girls’ ice hockey Bantam A rep team, she was nominated by the association. The submission was enthusiastically embraced by players and parents alike. In a statement, the Ravens said the organization is “incredibly proud to have someone as dedicated and talented as part of our team of committed coaches. (Korenic) will surely inspire other girls to look to coaching in their future.”

Hannah Scott, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Richmond Sentinel