(L to R) Joe O’Rourke, vice president and general manager of Seaspan Victoria Shipyards, Rainbow Kitchen director Patrick Johnstone, Esquimalt Mayor Barbara Desjardins and Mark Breslauer, CEO of United Way Greater Victoria, and Esquimalt Neighbourhood House executive director Mary Lynn McKenna are all smiles under their masks. (Photo courtesy of United Way)

United Way micro-grants a boon for Esquimalt residents

Nutrition, literacy, activity and community benefit from small grants

Esquimalt residents have many more reasons to smile during these challenging times, thanks to United Way Greater Victoria, the generosity of local businesses and the community.

A dozen programs in Esquimalt received funding grants from United Way Greater Victoria (UWGV) through its Hi Neighbour Program, a community-building project created in response to the needs of vulnerable citizens such as seniors and people living in poverty during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Hi Neighbour program was made possible through a donation from Seaspan, its sister company Southern Railway of British Columbia, and the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation.

“Through this generous donation to the United Way, Hi Neighbour built on the strengths, talents and passion ever prevalent in Esquimalt,” Mark Breslauer, CEO of UWGV noted in a media release. “This hyper-local initiative engaged residents, agencies and businesses in the creation of interesting new partnerships and opportunities aimed at helping those most in need during these uncertain times.”

READ ALSO: United Way Greater Victoria asking for at-home donations

In response to the question “If you had $500 to make an impact in your community, what would you do?” Esquimalt residents and businesses stepped up with a range of proposals for micro-grants.

The results provided funding for mini libraries, an Esquimalt Little Free Library project, food vouchers for the Esquimalt Farmers Market, as well as COVID masks and an incidental community cupboard for Esquimalt Neighbourhood House. Play Beyond Expectations will receive new exercise equipment, and upgrades will be made to the Esquimalt Community Garden Society.

Instructor Richard Wong will make virtual watercolour painting lessons available for youth involved with Big Brothers, Big Sisters, and Sacred group members of PEER Victoria Resource Society received tablets. Rainbow Kitchen Society will be able to purchase organizational shelving and kitchen equipment, and Harbourview Church will receive funding for lunch boxes, water bottles and rain boots. The Esquimalt First Nations received a housing grant, and the Songhees Nation will use the funds for a Lkwungen Awareness Posters project.

Joe O’Rourke, vice-president and general manager of Seaspan Victoria Shipyards, said he was proud of the way his team stepped up to support the Hi Neighbour program. “COVID has turned people’s lives upside down and added a lot more pressure and stress in our communities,” O’Rourke said. “At such a challenging time, I’m grateful that our people were able to help make a difference to those who need it most.”

Esquimalt mayor Barbara Desjardins said the grants include the addition of five mini-libraries, support for senior and youth support programming, and will enable local social service agencies to augment existing programs.

“The Hi Neighbour Program has given Esquimalt a real boost,” Desjardins said. “Perhaps the highlight of this is the addition of volunteers and volunteer hours given to and or our community by Seaspan workers. We are grateful for the co-ordination done by United Way, Kelly Binette and to Seaspan and the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation for the git of enhancing our community resilience through this challenging time.”

United Way is focusing efforts on urgent community needs such as mental health outreach services and counselling, meals and companionship for isolated seniors and essentials for families in needs during the COVID-19 pandemic. The organization raised $4.7 million last year thanks to more than 7,000 donors and 250 workplaces. The money raised helped Untied Way support more than 90,000 people.

Esquimalt neighbourhood House and Rainbow Kitchen handed out 150 care bags to seniors at an event on Sept. 29 to wrap up the initiative. The kits included Murchies tea, water bottles from the Township of Esquimalt, candies and refreshments from Country Grocer, first aid kits from Columbia Fire & Safety, and State of Aging guides from Black Press.

Go to uwgv.ca to make a donation or learn more about the work United Way does in the community.

rick.stiebel@goldstreamgazette.com

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