On a sunny autumn afternoon on the balcony of St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver, health-care workers were greeted by two individuals in superhero costume, handing out letters of appreciation.
The handwritten letters — all 700 of them — were penned by students from local elementary schools, businesses, and community members as a way to thank workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.
What started as a one-off event by organizers Kristin Auger and Jabeen Boga Jamal where 160 letters were collected and given to health-care workers at Lions Gate Hospital turned into something Jamal wanted to keep doing.
"I thought with the protests, morale is being impacted, they're already short-staffed. Why not do something to create energy and joy and rejoice them back into the love of their work?" said Jamal.
She says she wasn't sure she'd be able to collect enough letters this time around, but support from the community continued to pour in and she eventually collected hundreds of them.
"It just shows you the appreciation of everyone in the community for what the health-care workers are doing for us."
A show of support
For nearly two years, health-care workers have been on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, while battling burnout, personal health issues and the negative attention of a vocal minority of anti-vaccine mandate protesters.
In September, thousands of protesters gathered outside of hospitals in B.C. leading to reports of assault and disruption to people's safe access to health care.
"We were all very disheartened when we saw, you know, a lot of movements outside of hospitals," said Dave Taylor, a clinical nurse leader at St. Paul's, after receiving a stack of the letters for himself and some of his colleagues.
As a health-care worker, he says it's been difficult to watch people die from the virus while others argue its existence or the efficacy of the vaccine.
"And, over time, it continues to take a greater and greater toll," he said, adding that the support from the handwritten letters goes a long way.
"I think it really helps us because numbers are not fantastic right now and it's [the letters] making me smile."
Theresa Luu, a registered nurse at the hospital, says it was difficult not to feel overwhelmed by the support and appreciation.
"It's a small little gesture, but because we've been through a lot ... it's almost so pure that we feel like we don't deserve it," she said.
Her colleague, Feruz Estifanos, says health-care workers have faced increased negativity from some members of the public during the pandemic, and the letters offered a break from the gloom.
"With everything that's been going on, it just almost makes it a bit unbearable," she said. "But the fact that these little kids out there know and appreciate us, it means the world."
Handing out the letters — in full spandex and warrior garb — were local actors Kirsty Provan and Jenaya Barker with Pacific Fairytales, who volunteered their time and added a touch of levity to the afternoon.
"We're just the messengers," said Provan.
"We might be wearing the capes, but we are not the real superheroes of this situation."
Jamal says she intends to continue collecting letters and handing them out to health-care workers at hospitals across the Lower Mainland. Her next stop will be Vancouver General Hospital at the end of October.