As the floodwaters rose, someone had to take care of the cows. So when Jimi Meier was evacuated at 1:30 a.m., her husband and two boys stayed behind at their Sumas Prairie dairy farm in Abbotsford, B.C.
Three days without running water and heat, slogging through mud and stagnant water, had left them wet and cold. Meier went straight to Mark’s Work Warehouse to buy five pairs of coveralls, two flannel jackets, and some toques, socks and gloves.
“It was $700 and we’re fine to pay for that, but it just got me thinking — that's just one family and there's so many others that were going to be affected,” says Meier.
“I just thought, ‘What could I do?’”
Meier called up her friend Hallie Jacob and together they struck on a solution: leave a box at Mark’s and count on neighbours to do the rest.
Gift cards started to pile up. Soon, Meier and Jacobs had boxes at a local Starbucks, Lowe’s, Shoppers Drug Mart and a Buckerfield’s. Every day or two, the friends alternate picking up the boxes’ contents.
Online, Meier and Jacobs created a Facebook page under the name Helping Sumas Prairie Farmers - Flood Support, though Meier is careful to note anyone impacted by November’s record floods can receive support.
People started asking, can we send you an e-transfer? Can we donate heaters?
Other businesses started reaching out: Watson Gloves in Burnaby donated 1,000 pairs of gloves and the Quebec-based company, Kamik Boots, sent 300 boots to help flooded residents.
When a Chilliwack church asked what they needed most at that moment, $10,000 worth of flannel jackets, rain gear and socks arrived.
One day, residents would come to Meier’s farm shop to pick up a pair of boots.
“But what they didn't know was we had a bigger surprise and they had all of the jackets and hoodies and gloves and gifts waiting for them,” she says. “No questions asked.”
Meier says they have so far handed out an estimated $14,000 in gift cards, $12,000 in cash and $50,000 in direct donations of brand new items.
Social media has helped get the word out to people in need, but Meier says they’ve also used friend and family networks as well as local farmer associations to find out who needs what.
When that fails, Meier and Jacobs drive around Sumas Prairie looking for the most damaged homes.
“We’d show up and surprise the people and say we have something that's been donated for you. People were just so grateful for it,” she tells Glacier Media.
The donations are coming at a difficult time — flood damage has left many victims without heat or proper insulation in their homes. And weeks of frigid temperatures have left many families in the cold.
Meier says one family she knows had their first floor underwater for three weeks. When it was finally cleared out, the family could stay in the top floor, but there was no heat.
“Their house was minus 11,” says Meier. “So yeah, it's been rough for them and I think a lot of people are on hold a little bit now because it was such a rush to get things done but then now there's backlog because it's hard to get drywall, it's hard to get different things.”
That’s left people in need of heaters, jackets, warm gloves and blankets. Tarps, which are being used to keep snow and rain off people’s flooded belongings outside, are also in demand.
“We got a lot of those items in and we're still looking for those items because it's quite cold,” says Meier.
She adds the scale of need means there’s never going to be enough to change people’s lives.
“But truth is, I think it's just bringing a lot of people some joy. And they're just surprised because somebody is just coming in and handing them something and asking for nothing in return.”
One of the biggest surprises, says Meier, is how people she never knew are opening up. Some days, Meier and Jacob struggle to reach more than four or five families because everyone wants to tell their story — no matter how big or small.
“We thought, let's try and help a few people and see what we can do,” says Meier. “It went way beyond what we could have ever dreamed.”