IN BLOOM: Lightning-quick funding gave The Bloom Group a chance to do what they do best: help.

By Stacey McLachlan, Photographs by Claudette Carracedo. This article was reprinted with permission from the Vancouver Foundation’s 2020 Magazine. Read all of the Vancouver Foundation’s 2020 Magazine here.

LIZ BARNETT HAS SEEN IT ALL in her 30 years working in non-profits. She worked through Y2K and 9/11. She’s been facing the horrific realities of the opioid crisis every day for years.

Then, along came COVID-19. And she found herself frozen inside of her car. The week things got serious, “I would just sit in my car, just in shock,” recalls the executive director of the Bloom Group Community Services Society. Her team, which annually serves over 2,000 residents, patients, and clients with housing and social services, was similarly overwhelmed.

The Bloom Group is located in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, and serves people whose lives are already challenging. Their clients might be fleeing an abusive situation, or struggling with substance dependence; some are at-risk seniors in need of housing, others are living with mental illness and looking for support. “We’re here to fill in the gaps,” explains Barnett. Resources were already stretched thin, and the demands and pressures already high. And now, on top of it all, a global health crisis had taken hold.

The implications on Bloom’s vulnerable  community were staggering. There were the physical  dangers  of  the  disease,  of  course  —  infection,  transmission,  death  —  but  also  the  logistical   ones.   Grocery   stores   were   shutting down:  people couldn’t get  food.  Layoffs were swift. Community centres — an important  space  for  the  homeless  to  clean  up  or  use  the  washroom  or  simply  wash  their  hands  —closed.  Personal protection equipment (PPE) was impossible to find.

But then: the phone rang. And on the end of the line was Vancouver Foundation, asking if funding from the new  Community  Response  Fund (CRF) would be helpful. Yes, said Barnett. Yes, it would.

She  answered  a   couple  of  questions,  and  less than a   week  later,  Bloom  Group’s  bank  account  was  $50,000  richer.  The best part?  The Bloom Group could use that money however it saw fit. This was a unique cash infusion — one that  also  offered  empowerment.  After all, as the Vancouver Foundation board points out, the community knows best what the community needs.

Barnett got out of her car, and got to work.

First on the docket for funding was Bloom’s Healthy  Meals  program,  which  delivers  hot  meals  to  members  of  the  community.  With shops and restaurants closed, the access to something to eat was critical. “We thought about getting people coupons, but there liter-ally wasn’t anywhere to go,” notes Barnett.

One tenant, an at-risk senior who’s a little frail now that he’s in his 70s, normally relies on the food bank and the bus. He’s one of the many Bloom clients who Barnett knows the Healthy Meals program impacted on multiple levels. “To be able to receive a hot meal delivered to his door, a beautiful meal, I know that made a difference in his physical and mental health,” says Barnett. “A healthy meal is a way to say ‘someone cares.’”

It’s not the only way Bloom used the CRF to offer compassion to its community. Along with affordable housing, the organization operates a hospice with 16 beds. Under the COVID-19 lockdown, the rules around visitors quickly changed, and Barnett found her team scram-bling to still provide comfort for their residents, even if all of their loved ones couldn’t be there for their last days. With the help of the CRF, they were able to do that…materially at least. Sixteen specialized mattresses were purchased: a small gesture that meant the world.

The last chunk of the CRF money was used to offer support in a more practical — but crucially important — way.

If an order of 5,000 gloves comes in, they’re now tracked and shelved in a new mini-ware-house area. Nothing is lost, nothing is hoarded. It’s a gift for managers pulling triple shifts to have one less thing to worry about. “It might sound funny to pay for shelving,” says Barnett, “but [PPE] keeps our 250 staff safe, which keeps their families safe.”

As the first recipient of the CRF, Barnett is still marveling at how quickly Vancouver Foundation and Bloom were able to get $50,000 out into the community. But it’s not just about the money, she says: it was about the “grace and support” that the helping hand represented.

“There is so much negative stuff said about this neighbourhood; a lot of people just don’t understand. But this call was a reminder: the community does love us. They remembered.”