Volunteers show toques, mittens and scarves that have been hand-knitted during a previous year’s Comfort Coats effort. (File photo)

Volunteers show toques, mittens and scarves that have been hand-knitted during a previous year’s Comfort Coats effort. (File photo)

South Surrey ‘Comfort Coat’ project a success, despite pandemic hurdles

Helpers of St. Anne volunteers ensure tradition continues to warm homeless

The COVID-19 pandemic created significant challenges for Semiahmoo Peninsula volunteers who’ve gathered every fall for nearly two decades to craft warmth for the homeless.

In years past, the dozens-strong Helpers of St. Anne team would meet regularly en masse, starting in September, in the gym of Star of the Sea Catholic school in South Surrey to cut, sew and stuff full-length, fleece-lined, quilted and hooded waterproof coats that ultimately protect those most in need from the biting elements of the winter season.

READ MORE: ‘So much need’ for South Surrey-based coat project to continue, grow

But the pandemic, as it has with so many things, threw the tradition a serious curveball.

“We had so many challenges to our project this year,” group founder Carolyn Wharton said this month. “I’ve never faced so many challenges.”

After stepping up in March – following declaration of the pandemic – to fashion and deliver more than 2,500 masks to sites including care homes, members of the Catholic outreach ministry turned their focus to the Comfort Coats initiative.

Faced with no way to fundraise, facility closures, gathering limits and sanitizing requirements, “we thought, ‘what in heaven’s name are we going to do about the coat project?’” Wharton said.

There were doubts as to whether enough of the material could be obtained months ahead of schedule to enable an early start that could help balance out the restrictions. As well, if it did arrive early, “where on Earth were we going to cut all this fabric?” Wharton said.

Determined, the volunteers powered through – fabric was secured, a group member had space to enable some distanced cutting and as much as was possible was done from home. Eventually, tables for sewing were set up in the Star of the Sea Hall, but still, only half the usual number of sewers could be there, Wharton said.

Despite the obstacles, some two dozen Comfort Coats – which double as sleeping bags – their pockets stuffed with toiletries, knitted items and gifts, will be ready for pickup in early December. This year, they will be distributed through Collingwood Neighbourhood House, Missionary Sisters of Charity and the Catholic Street Missionaries.

“We were absolutely determined to find a way around everything that COVID threw to us as an obstacle,” Wharton said, commending, in particular, project co-ordinators Margaret Gregson, Ana Castillion and Arnalda Benetti.

“The community needs to know how hard we worked this year,” she added. “The people that have come together to pull this off, they’re just so dedicated. The work was unreal and the organization had to be just right.

“It’s over with now, but boy, I tell you, I didn’t think it would be possible.”



tholmes@peacearchnews.com
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

CoronavirusHomelessSurreyvolunteersWhite Rock

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Volunteers work on Comfort Coats during a previous year’s effort. (File photo)

Volunteers work on Comfort Coats during a previous year’s effort. (File photo)

Just Posted

Pixabay image
Surrey council moves to update city’s telecommunication antennas policy

But councillor says health and safety protocols are nearly 40 years old

Steven Pettigrew. ( File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
Surrey councillor says buffer zones between drug stores should not be reduced

Council approved a variance permit to reduce the minimum separation requirement between drug stores and methadone dispensaries to 90 metres from the current 400 metres

Surrey Police Service cruiser. (File photo)
Surrey Police Service, CUPE sign staff transfer agreement from RCMP to new force

Chief Constable says there will be ‘no disruption’ to police service during transfer

SkyTrain running through Whalley. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
Mayors’ Council wants feds to fund Surrey-Langley SkyTrain in upcoming budget

Mayors’ Council on regional transportation sent letter to federal government Monday

Spring Break kits available for free at Surrey Libraries branches. (submitted photo)
Free ‘Spring Break Kits’ for kids at Surrey Libraries

Children don’t need a library card to get a kit, but can sign up for one for free

(The Canadian Press)
‘Worse than Sept. 11, SARS and financial crisis combined’: Tourism industry in crisis

Travel services saw the biggest drop in active businesses with 31 per cent fewer firms operating

Montreal Canadiens right wing Paul Byron (41) fights for control of the puck with Vancouver Canucks defenceman Quinn Hughes (43) during first period NHL action in Vancouver, Monday, March 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Captain Clutch: Horvat nets shootout winner as Canucks edge Habs 2-1

Vancouver, Montreal tangle again on Wednesday

A special committee has been appointed to look at reforming B.C.’s police act and is inviting the public to make submissions until April 30, 2021. (Black Press media file)
Have thoughts on B.C.’s review of the provincial Police Act?

Submissions will be accepted until April 30

Cottonwoods Care Home in Kelowna. (Google Maps)
New COVID-19 outbreak at Kelowna care home includes fully vaccinated seniors: Henry

Two staff and 10 residents tested positive at Cottonwoods Care Centre

Excerpts from a conversation between Bria Fisher and the fake truLOCAL job. Fisher had signed a job agreement and was prepared to start work for what she thought was truLOCAL before she learned it was a scam. (Contributed)
B.C. woman warning others after losing $3,000 in job scam

Bria Fisher was hired by what she thought was a Canadian company, only to be out thousands

Some of the hundreds of pounds of trash removed by divers last month from Abbotsford’s Walmsley Lake.(Henry Wang photo)
VIDEO: Divers remove 462 pounds of trash from Abbotsford lake

Walmsley Lake dive uncovers several tires, hundreds of drink containers and a tent

Trent Miner is returning to the Vancouver Giants, the team announced. He has been released by the Colorado Eagles of the AHL.(Rik Fedyck/Vancouver Giants)
Trent Miner returns to play goal for Vancouver Giants

Netminder was part of epic 11-game winning-streak by Langley-based team

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix provide a regular update on the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, March 2, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 cases: 545 Saturday, 532 Sunday, 385 Monday

Focus on Prince Rupert, Lower Mainland large workplaces

Most Read