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OPINION: Emergency grant funds helping community groups, still available

Our local emergency fund does not have a deadline and we will continue to make grants as funding is available for that purpose.

The world seems a very different place than it did four months ago.

As a born-and-raised member of the Banff community, the effects of COVID-19 have changed how I see the communities I was raised around and how they come together in times of need.

Protecting each other in the wake of COVID-19 has meant a total rethinking of how we share spaces and access resources in our communities. Distancing regulations have changed and spaces have reopened, however, the opportunity to work and live in the mountains has changed for so many.

This April, the federal government introduced the Emergency Community Support Fund (ECSF) to be distributed through national intermediaries in order to support a variety of activities that address a pressing social inclusion or well-being need caused by COVID-19. Community foundations across Canada have been tasked with reviewing applications and distributing federal funding.

To date, over $120,000 has been distributed to local front-line organizations via the Bow Valley Emergency Grant program (funded by the Canmore Rotary Club Charitable Foundation, the Wim and Nancy Pauw Foundation, and the Banff Canmore Community Foundation) and the ECSF.

"From a solutions standpoint to a resource standpoint to a funding standpoint – the dollars will stretch further if we work together,” said Cathy Geisler, executive director of the Wim and Nancy Pauw Foundation, in a media release statement.

Bow Valley Connections Centre (BVCC) received funding for a project that works to combat isolation for disabled and vulnerable groups in our community. Following distancing measures, gatherings were unable to occur and varying levels of access to online resources made efforts further challenging.

“When the grant came in, it was like a blessing from the sky when we found out that we could have a summer program with it,” said Dorothy Staniforth, co-founder of BVCC.

Spirit North obtained funding for programming to strengthen Indigenous youth leaders and mental health training.

“The mental and emotional toll of COVID-19 is enormous. Children and youth have had to deal with disruption to routine, isolation, stress, anxiety, and uncertainty as the world around them changes in response to a global pandemic,” said Janine Ballingall, director of stakeholder relations and development with Spirit North, in an emailed statement.

“[W]e know we have a critical role to play throughout and in the aftermath of the pandemic – particularly as it relates to supporting mental health for Indigenous youth.”

The individual well-being of our community members is critical to supporting family units and households. Parents endure providing income to their households while attending to the well-being of their children without access to public schools yet.

“We're hoping to create a program that provides a safe space for children to go and reconnect with friends and build their social network,” said Christine deMontigny, team lead and family support worker with Town of Canmore Family Resource Network.

“And then parents will also have time to themselves, which will look after their mental health and well-being, which is critical to the health and well-being of the whole family.”

Town of Canmore’s Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) were redeployed from its regular operations to support coordination efforts in addressing housing, psychosocial support, and food security needs, amongst other concerns.

“We know that the Bow Valley as a baseline is a challenging place with regards to affordability,” said Laura Wellman, family and community worker.

“There is a coordinated group [organized by FCSS] around how to provide food support along the continuum of the spectrum.”

Food rescue programs and restaurants preparing meals have all received generous donations from Bow Valley residents, businesses, and our local foundations. Over 5,000 meals were delivered by Banff restaurant Grizzly House by the end of June. The Canmore Food and Friends program also received a large boost from provincial funding.

“I see a tremendous amount of cooperation and people seeking advice from others to collaborate and make things better,” said Sandy Last, a director with BCCF.

But we are far from out of the woods yet. Conditions may change in the fall season as federal funding programs such as CERB could phase out while seasonal tourism is at a lull.

“There's recognition that as things evolve, or don't evolve, with regards to a second wave, we do need to be flexible in our abilities,” said Wellman.

Other funding recipients include YWCA Banff to offer housing for vulnerable individuals; Covenant Foundation has provided hospital scrubs to Mineral Springs Hospital healthcare workers; Bow Valley College is providing student bursary support as they transition to online delivery of course materials; amongst many others.

United Way of Calgary and Area has allocated approximately $100,000 of the ECSF for grant making in the Banff and Canmore area. Our local emergency grant review committee is considering applications.

Key priorities are programs or projects that focus on keeping Bow Valley residents fed, sheltered, safe, and connected.

Our local emergency fund does not have a deadline and we will continue to make grants as funding is available for that purpose. Interested community organizations are encouraged to reach out to our organizations by contacting Elizabeth Sorochan