A new Facebook group founded just five days ago to provide social supports for area residents during the COVID-19 crisis already has almost 900 members.
The Smithers and Area Community Support Network was founded by Courtenay Kelleher on March 15. She wasn’t expecting such a resounding response.
“I was so surprised,” she said. “Thankfully I had two people offer to help me admin the group because I could not keep up with the requests.”
Kelleher, currently a registered nurse with Northern Health, came up with the idea following two weeks of classes at Royal Roads University in Victoria where she is nearing completion of a Master’s degree in disaster and emergency management.
“The majority of our time over at school for the past two weeks has been talking about what we can do in our communities, where the gaps are, what policies need to be made, every aspect of this of this if you look at it as a global disaster,” she explained.
She noted people in the big cities are ordering groceries and other supplies from companies that have delivery services, but those services are limited in the Bulkley Valley.
“I thought, so maybe that’s the need in my community and that I can help connect people through social media,” she said. “So, I thought I’d start a Facebook group and that its mandate would be to try to connect people who might not have a lot of social support, kind of looking at those social determinants of health, and those social vulnerabilities and hoping that maybe we could just bridge some divide. Our community has been so polarized in the last few months with the variety of protests we’ve seen and just the different views everyone has, I thought maybe this was an opportunity for everyone to come together and each other and if we help even one family then it’s a success.”
Kelleher believes it already is a success.
“We’ve already had a number of what I’m calling acts of support happen: people going to stores for people, picking up things in Terrace or Prince George, connecting people with information they needed, so I do see a lot of positive coming out of that group.”
She recognizes not all people are comfortable publicly asking for help, so the admins of the group are accepting private messages from people who require help but want to remain anonymous. The admins will take the requests and post them on behalf of the user then broker any connections that need to be made.
Kelleher stresses that while the group has grown rapidly and has a role to play in the COVID-19 crisis, it is not intended to replace other supports.
For example, Northern Health has set up community Facebook groups for all its jurisdictions (facebook.com/groups/NHSmithers).
“That’s where all the up-to-date health and health service information is,” she said. “So I’m trying to port that information over to this group because I recognize this community support group has four to five times the amount people in it,” she said.
She also believes it can have a permanent role once the pandemic is over by supplementing the efforts of emergency services in other natural disasters such wildfires, snowstorms, power outages or flooding.
“I would love for more people to keep joining in and finding a way that they can help,” she said. “Everyone has a unique skill set and experience that they can hopefully harness and find ways to contribute to our community during this time.”