Ladysmith Program Giving People Purpose and Support with Thanks to United Way

2021-WEBSize Jacqeline Neligan.jpgNeeding help, and needing to give 

We have all needed to discover ways of coping since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

For some, that has meant reaching out to food programs to help feed their families, or tapping into online programming to keep their kids learning and happy. 

For others, it’s been small interactions – finding people to talk to: people who know where to point you for help. 

But, for some folks, what they need is a way to help others. To cope, some people need to give. 

At Ladysmith Family and Friends (LaFF), in addition to providing a variety of supports, they also find ways of helping community members to support each other. 

“That’s something that LaFF excels in,” says Jacqueline Neligan, LaFF’s Executive Director. “I think we all have something to offer, something to give. It’s like our breath: sometimes it’s the exhale [that people need], and sometimes it’s the inhale and both are equally important.” 


Adapting to the Pandemic 

Due to the pandemic, LaFF has had to change the way they deliver their drop-in meal, food supply, clothing and family activity program. Whereas the program used to take place in the mornings at Aggie Hall in Ladysmith, program staff now deliver food, prepared meals, kids’ activity kits, gift cards and more to families in need. They also run a drive-in service where one family every 15 minutes can drive to Aggie Hall to pick up what they need and chat safely with program staff. 

A major addition to the program has been a van, paid for through a United Way Central & Northern Vancouver Island grants thanks to the Government of Canada’s Emergency Community Support Fund. 

“We’ve been able to do bulk-buying, and then bulk delivering around the community,” says Jacqueline. “And the community has been so generous as well. We’ll have a farmer say, ‘Come and take as many squashes or pumpkins or apples or plums as you want.’” 

Increasing their capacity to do deliveries and to provide online programming – like, for LaFF, cooking classes – has been something just about all social support organizations have been grappling with during the pandemic. But an emphasis LaFF has maintained is how to include volunteers. 


Engaging Volunteers 

In some cases, older volunteers haven’t been able to participate in LaFF as they normally do. That loss of social connection and meaning has been hard for volunteers, says Neligan, even as LaFF works to keep their volunteers connected and supported. 

One example is a long-time volunteer affectionately named Grandpa Tom. Years ago, he would attend LaFF’s drop-in program with his grandkids. But since then, losing his wife left Tom feeling lost for a while, says Jacqueline. But LaFF invited him to come and have a coffee at the drop-in program, and since then he’s become a surrogate grandparent to a lot of the children that attend the program, says Jacqueline.  

“Parents love him,” she says. “He’s right there [playing with the kids] and giving that energy to parents so that they can sit back and take a breather.” 

Though Grandpa Tom can’t participate as a volunteer due to the pandemic, LaFF has kept him connected by passing on cards, drawings and photos from kids and parents to him. 


Pumpkins Bring a Smile 

In other cases, people’s volunteering can be incorporated into LaFF’s pandemic programming. One volunteer reached out to them in September, hoping to carve pumpkins for families. It’s an activity he would normally do every year through the school system, and something he really enjoyed, said Jacqueline. But this year it wasn’t possible.  

However, LaFF was able to set him up in a corner of Aggie Hall, and this October, families that came by to pick up supplies left with a Jack-o-lantern as well. 

“It was so cool for them to receive that, to know that there is someone who is caring about them and wanting to brighten their day. But most importantly, here is a man who wasn’t super excited about anything in life, but he said this made his whole month of October, looking forward to that.” 

In addition, the man continued to volunteer when LaFF made use of another person’s skills. 


12 Days of Holiday Cheer 

A Lion’s Club member, who normally teaches kids to do woodworking, filled his time by making customized wooden crates, which LaFF accepted as a gift, pledging to find a good use for them.  

“We didn’t know exactly what we would do with them at the time … but we ended up doing 12 Days of Holiday Cheer,” says Jacqueline. 

Whereas LaFF would normally hold a breakfast with Santa as a major fundraiser for the program, LaFF came up with 12 Days of Holiday Cheer, filling the crates with 12 days’ worth of fun family activities for the holidays. Stamped with “Est. 1995”, the crates also served to celebrate LaFF’s 25-year anniversary. 

The crates could be purchased for individual families, gifted, or sponsored by community businesses, allowing LaFF to raise funds for its programming, while still providing crates to those who couldn’t otherwise purchase them. 

LaFF heard back from participants that the crates were a hit, not only with families but with seniors as well, giving people something special to look forward to. 

“That will be something we’ll continue to look at … creating those opportunities for people to look forward to something,” says Jacqueline. 

It’s caring, considerate programs like this that United Way Central & Northern Vancouver Island looks to fund. United, we’re all making a difference by supporting important organizations like this in your community. If you can, please consider giving to your local United Way today.