Terrace’s community response to the COVID-19 pandemic was sparked by Philip Maher. (Jake Wray/Terrace Standard)

COVID-19 threat resulted in huge community response in Terrace area

“We found a job for everybody,” says key organizer

It didn’t take Philip Maher long to realize something needed to be done here to respond to the COVID-19 virus as it swept through other parts of the world.

“I figured we were about three weeks behind what was going on in Europe,” said Maher in remembering his late March tracking of the effects of the pandemic in northern Italy, England and other countries.

Quickly understanding that personal protective equipment for health care workers, support for those workers and food supplies for smaller rural communities would be crucial, Maher, the manager of Superior Propane in Terrace, began calling his business connections.

“The response was phenomenal,” said Maher of what came back from large corporations such as Rio Tinto and LNG Canada and then from community groups, businesses and individuals as word spread.

Rio Tinto, for example, supplied face shields, with one of its employees driving up from Kitimat on her own time to make deliveries.

Working from what he says was the side of his desk, Maher became the focal point of passing information, introducing people to one another and arranging for the transport and delivery of goods and material.

People began contacting Maher with offers of material for face masks and sewing patterns to make them.

The Salvation Army made its mobile kitchen available at places such as Mills for refreshments and meals for workers and to offer a location just to take a break. And Domino’s Pizza made deliveries to Mills Memorial and Terraceview Lodge while Pita Pit offered up wraps.

A number of iPads arrived from Skeena Middle School so patients inside Mills Memorial Hospital, which had been designed as one of three primary COVID-19 treatment facilities in northern B.C., could keep in touch with family members on the outside.

Businesses began scouting around their own inventories for gloves and other protective gear that would fit the needs of frontline workers as did Coast Mountain College which, through its regional campuses, delivered goods and material to healthcare facilities in Terrace, Prince Rupert and Smithers.

Local supplies were bolstered by a large donation of PPE arranged by Teddy Cui from Skeena Sawmills who reached back to the Rizhao Sanqui Medical Equipment firm in his hometown of Rizhao, China.

With a value of approximately $63,000, 2,000 pieces of protective clothing, 4,300 protective masks and 9,000 surgical-quality masks arrived in May, with shipping aided by the Port of Prince Rupert and Quickload Logistics.

That’s when the City of Terrace’s purchasing department took over the job of becoming a distribution point for the shipment, making the donation widely available to local businesses and organizations.

“The City of Terrace is grateful for the generous donation from Skeena Sawmills, which goes to show how phenomenal the local community here in Terrace has been in taking care of one another,” said Terrace mayor Carol Leclerc.

”Throughout the pandemic, we’ve seen local businesses adapt to the regulations and find new ways to provide their products and services to their customers and clients.”

With calls offering cash donations and goods and material, Maher relied on existing community resources.

Financial donations were funnelled through the Dr. R.E.M. Lee Hospital Foundation as it has charitable status while goods and material offers, including personal protective equipment, were also directed toward Northern Health.

“People kept calling, saying ‘I want to do something. You need help, I’m here.’ We found a job for everybody,” said Maher.

He recalls packaging goods and supplies, including toilet paper rolls, for more rural and remote communities in the early days of the community response when outside supply chains became stressed.

Maher credits mayor Carol Leclerc and the City of Terrace for its role in supply distribution both locally and in particular to smaller and more remote communities.

Aside from acting as a supply distribution point, the City was also making preparations in conjunction with the local medical community should a deeper response have been needed if the virus took hold in the community.

“Early on in the pandemic, the City of Terrace worked with Northern Health and ​local physicians to make contingency plans in the event that a secondary outdoor clinic was needed for non-COVID related patients. The farmers’ market space was one such location identified for such a purpose, should it be required,” said City chief administrative officer Heather Avison.

Eryn Collins, who speaks for Northern Health, said the community response was not lost on its Terrace and area health care workers.

Early on, with general concerns being expressed about the quantity of PPE available, offers by individuals, organizations and businesses were highly appreciated, she said.

“And with food, meal deliveries to the staff at our acute care and long term care facilities, we were extremely grateful for that level of support,” she said.

Also warmly received were messages of thanks and support through social media channels and other means, Collins added.

Once in March and again in April, emergency vehicles with lights on and sirens blaring circled Mills Memorial Hospital and continued through town.

In the Horseshoe, Rob and Erica Davis, along with their children, began standing outside their house each night at 7 p.m., drumming and singing songs in Nisga’a to show thanks to healthcare workers. The Davis family were just one of many throught the Northwest who drummed, sang, danced or cheered to show appreciation at 7 p.m.

The experience of this spring taught Maher that people can come together for the common good, reacting quickly to expand and break through their own organizational structures.

“Everybody needed resources, but they were prepared to make their own sacrifices, to prioritize needs, to help those in most need, to get in front of a global pandemic,” he said.

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