The executive director of the United Way of the Thompson Nicola Cariboo labelled positive a recent meeting with the province to discuss social aid for communities impacted by sawmill closures or curtailments.
Danalee Baker met with staff from the Ministry of Forest Lands and Natural Resource Operations after the United Ways of B.C. sent a letter to Premier John Horgan on July 19, requesting $3 million worth of social aid.
“I feel really encouraged,” Baker told KTW.
The United Way wants to partner with the province to invest $200,000 into each of 15 communities impacted, doled out through the United Way’s established relationships with agencies and communities.
Baker said the organization reacted during the wildfire crisis and hopes to be proactive this time, with money in place by October or November in anticipation of severance packages running out and the holiday season increasing stress on families affected by layoffs.
Baker noted a spinoff effect in the community, in addition to those directly impacted.
“It’s the contractors, it’s those who provide the mills with services, deliver equipment, do maintenance, do cleaning,” she said.
“It’s also the communities where they would buy their groceries.”
There have been myriad announcements in recent months linked to sawmill closures or curtailments throughout the province.
One such closure took place in Vavenby, near Clearwater, where the Canfor mill closed at the end of July, leaving more than 170 people out of work.
As communities and the province grapple with the economic impacts, the United Way said non-profits will be left to manage increased need for programs and services that improve quality of life amidst crisis.
“Severance packages and transition teams will ensure that the future is planned for in the short term,” the letter from the United Way states.
“But as winter and the holiday season approaches, food, heating, clothing and mental health with be a growing concern for those facing unemployment.”
Baker said the Clearwater Food Bank has already seen a spike in usage and she anticipates family, mental-health and addiction services will also see increased demand.
The money requested by the agency would allow United Way chapters to increase capacity in those communities, as well as replace fundraising dollars lost from workplace campaigns at the mills.
The employees who now need the services were the ones previously supporting others.
Baker noted mill workers at the Vavenby mill workers continued to contribute to United Way via payroll deductions until the mill shuttered at the end of last month.
“None of them cancelled their donation,” she said.