Cowichan Neighbourhood House Association’s busy little Christmas elves, from left: Melvene Hill, Arlene Robinson and Kathryn Asp. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Cowichan Neighbourhood House Association’s busy little Christmas elves, from left: Melvene Hill, Arlene Robinson and Kathryn Asp. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Neighbourhood House working diligently to meet community needs

COVID restrictions make things more difficult, but crucial services still being provided

The Cowichan Neighbourhood House Association is a busy place catering to the needs of the community throughout the year, but particularly at Christmastime.

“It provides inclusive service from advocacy to youth groups and everything in between,” said Kathryn Asp, the current president of the community organization.

COVID has obviously changed how the CNHA serves the community, but the job is still getting done one way or the other.

Asp cites the regular programs and non-regular activities that are quite extensive during normal times, with whatever alterations are required or occasional temporary omissions during COVID.

Regular programs include: daily drop-in five days a week for social time, service referrals, free computer and internet use, etc.; Friday free store for clothing and household supplies; and weekly English as a second language sessions.

Regular youth programs include: daily after-school drop-in with recreation room; nights with structured and unstructured activities; weekly cooking; occasional field trips; and art projects.

Regular healthy food programs include: Zero Food Waste; daily free groceries; daily free lunches; cooking classes; and food hampers.

Non-regular activities include: free workshops for such things as canning, B.C. food safe, first aid, youth art therapy, community dinners, adopt-a-family for Christmas, cultural events and more.

That’s it in a nutshell and it takes a lot of work from countless volunteers to keep it going.

“Our motto is neighbours helping neighbours,” said Arlene Robinson, who’s been the face of the CNHA from the beginning. “Don’t ask questions. If you need help, we’re here to help.”

The needs of the community are ever-changing since COVID and people who haven’t necessarily required assistance before find themselves in a tough spot.

“There’s so many people out of work right now,” noted Robinson.

“We don’t do a means test,” added Asp. “Just having the extra food makes all the difference to them.”

“We’re still serving ready-to-eat meals, but not in the building because we can’t do that anymore,” Robinson indicated.

Ready-to-eat meals and groceries are provided three days a week and some deliveries are made to seniors and shut-ins.

“We’ve handed out 50 ready-to-serve Christmas dinners and also delivered another six to shut-ins,” Robinson noted. “Our Christmas hampers so far we have handed out 101 gift hampers.”

Gift hampers to households have provided many large families with Christmas cheer.

Between floods and fires this year, that’s been an unexpected source for additional support. That includes members of a large family whose home was destroyed by fire last month and are currently squeezed into accommodation above the Salish Sea Market.

“We hope once this COVID thing is done we can go back to doing educational things,” Robinson added.

There’s also a pressing need for the CNHA to get a permanent location established.

Related story: Cowichan Neighbourhood House looking for permanent home

The organization still gets funding from North Cowichan to assist with rent in place of the old fire hall space that was rent free.

“So we still rely on North Cowichan and at present have a five-year agreement with them,” pointed out Asp. “The amount provided does not quite cover the cost of rent.

“What we need is a down payment for our mortgage,” she added. “We’ll be heading into major fundraising when Christmas is over.”

“For us, this building, we could buy it and we could get a grant toward doing that,” Robinson indicated.

It’s also built so a second floor could be added.

“Right now the property is for sale and we don’t know what kind of landlord we’re going to get next,” Robinson said.

“We don’t know whether the new owners would let us stay on,” Asp indicated.

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Cowichan Neighbourhood House needs to firm up a permanent location, whether it’s at the current Willow Street site or somewhere else. (File photo by Don Bodger)

Cowichan Neighbourhood House needs to firm up a permanent location, whether it’s at the current Willow Street site or somewhere else. (File photo by Don Bodger)