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  • Gayle Baker

Building Community Connections Through Sharing Meals, Grief, and Laughter. . .The Chian Society Does This and More!

June 28

Twenty-one gathered to welcome the Chuan Society to this ASK Salt Spring gathering. Special guests included chairperson Kajin Goh, council members Lauren Porter, Jenny McClean, and Stephen Carey, and Gabriel’s Kitchen team members Cheryl Roehlig, Kristin Norget, and Keith Delaney. After his Territorial Acknowledgment (suggesting that Land and People Honouring might be an added term), Kajin spoke of his “excitement and delight” with the “People Power” being created from small seeds. These seeds are continuously nurtured by the excitement, energy, and hard work of so many volunteers, many of who had joined us for this conversation. Working alongside a non-hierarchical Chuan Council of nine are many optimistic volunteers working on multiple projects through our community.


So, tell us a bit about the Chuan Society (https://www.facebook.com/chuansociety/). Originating as a citizen journalism project — the Chuan Chronicle — the Chuan Society was formed in 2017 in response to community needs, with a mandate for social action through culture and collective action to address access and equity barriers. While it has evolved through the years, as well as adding a plethora of new projects, its commitment to equity, bridging gaps, and creating a collective voice for a connected community remains strong. Collaborative partnerships with other organizations is also an important focus, deepening the connections that radiate from multiple organizations with similar commitments.


Before the pandemic, one of the major initiatives of the Chuan Society was The Kids R Alright!, a series of all-ages block parties held in the Islands Saving parking lot. Each of these block parties addressed important community issues as well as building connections; platforming local, intergenerational performers, speakers and organisations; and simply having fun together.


The years of COVID seriously impacted many of our insecurely-housed, bringing that isolation that affected us all but also adding serious life-threatening issues including mental health, substance use, and access to shelter challenges. Initiated as a Chuan project but continuing after launch as a people-powered action, the Warming Space was a grassroots response involving a number of Chuan members. It attempted to offer shelter during unseasonably cold temperatures of minus 12 beginning on Christmas Day 2021 and continuing through the winter of 2022.


A collective effort at nine different locations which faced four evictions (https://gulfislandsdriftwood.com/warming-space-collective-looks-for-place-to-keep-efforts-going-until-march/), this initiative, nonetheless, provided a warm place for those without homes or daytime shelter during the cold winter months.


According to Kajin, working on the Warming Space became an accelerated political education into island governance/bylaws and galvanized Chuan Society action. It resulted in a lot of new friends, allies, and partners for subsequent projects. These include groups like Restorative Justice, Transitions Salt Spring, the Social Justice Committee (an interfaith alliance between four of our local churches). Chuan volunteers worked with the filmmaker Gary Mcnutt on “In From The Cold,” a documentary on homelessness on Salt Spring. The Warming Space also began an evolving relationship with the CRD, as demonstrated by improved and more solutions-focused conversations with CRD representatives, such as our Electoral Director, Gary Holman, who was a guest at this gathering.


One of Chuan’s recent projects is the Memory Tree at the United Church Meadow. Did you wonder about the decorated apple tree? The result of a collaboration between CRD, the United Church, and Chuan, we now have a spot we can share our grief over loss while adding an ornament to the apple tree. Now in its second year, this project will be held annually during April and May.


Although the Chuan Society has a number of rapidly growing initiatives (Jôga For The People, The Tool Library), we began by learning about two — Gabriel’s Kitchen, and a grassroots project involving many Chuan members, Salt Spring Safely:


Gabriel’s Kitchen is a community kitchen run by volunteers that serves free delicious meals once a week. Serving dinners in the fall and winter, Gabriel’s Kitchen is now serving a weekly lunch every Thursday afternoon from 1:00-3:00 pm in the All-Saints-By-The-Sea Anglican Parish parking lot (except for rainy days, when the Upper Hall is used.)


Begun in October 2023, the number of volunteers, organizations donating food, and dinner guests is growing by leaps and bounds. Named after a friend lost in 2020 in a boating accident, Gabriel Bonga, the project is fueled by memories of Gabriel’s “Stone Soup" program which was served over 5 years in Peace Park until his death. Gabriel’s Kitchen emphasizes relationship, empowerment, community, and collaboration, much like the original ‘Stone Soup’ tale (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stone_Soup). 


An amazing community feast, many in the room spoke lovingly of this initiative, appreciating the hard work together in the kitchen, laughing over the times when all may not have been as planned, and joy at the rapidly-increasing diversity of folks sharing food, now including many seniors, Parish members, and lots of children cavorting. Please join them to share - and even help prepare - a meal soon!


Many Chuan council members are involved with Salt Spring Safely, a grassroots initiative focused on harm reduction ((https://harmreduction.org/about-us/principles-of-harm-reduction/) in response to a string of tragic deaths, many of whom have been youth and young adults, which has rocked our community, Unlike previous drug use initiatives supporting only abstinence, it is now understood that programs must also offer a set of practical strategies to reduce the negative consequences associated with drug use. Both highly controversial as well as clearly effective, this includes a range of services to help safe drug use, including distribution of clean needles, education, and widespread availability of naloxone kits (https://drugpolicy.ca/critical-terminology-guide/).


Sharing good food together and increasing food security/sovereignty is something Salt Springers are more than eager to support. But, rallying to support harm reduction and safe supply is more difficult, requiring more education and willingness to break down the stigmas surrounding addictions, substance use, and PWUD (People Who Use Drugs).


Initiatives for the distribution of safe needles, educational materials, and naloxone kits are gaining local acceptance. But, while many may support safe use in theory, proposing safe use sites near their homes or in public spaces can elicit NIMBY (Not in My Backyard) responses. Safe use sites can take many forms; statistics show that most users who die of toxic drugs or overdoses have died using alone, without supervision or company who might administer Naloxone or call paramedics in case of an emergency.


Several of our guests spoke of their past usage and frustration that they ended up hiding while using because of stigma or lack of access to safer spaces. As mental health challenges underlie much usage, this fear of being discovered adds anxiety to an already anxious situation, but also significantly increases risk of death or injury.


Salt Spring Safely is focused on developing and providing support for those facing addictions. Things that are much needed in this community include a safer use space (such as an overdose prevention site or a never-use-alone program), more adequate and accessible testing on island with a mass spectrometer, a detox centre, and a recovery home, all complex needs requiring significant funding. But, members are committed and know that the opioid crisis is one of our most urgent health issues and cannot be ignored. With too many deaths, soaring to 8 (or even 11, depending upon reporting) two years ago, and very likely on the increase without intervention, the opioid crisis is here and must be addressed.


Despite these challenges, there is some good news: More connections and efforts are being made which include a deepening relationship with Island Health who is hiring a peer outreach worker, exploring connections with a substance drug testing site in Victoria for harm reduction services, and liaising with the addictions physician who has  Salt Spring in their portfolio.


Additional good news is that there is a growing understanding across North America (well-known and utilized in Europe) of the advantages of testing illicit drugs through a handheld infrared spectroscopy (https://harmreductionjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12954-017-0179-5). Salt Spring Safely volunteers who joined us at this gathering are optimistic that the acquisition of an infrared mass spectrometer is imminent. Based on this development, grant money for training in its use is being sought. The next big leap will, of course, be  inviting users to get their drugs tested.

 

There was brief mention of the Islands Trust Complete Communities Assessment (https://islandstrust.bc.ca/island-planning/salt-spring/projects/ssi-complete-community-assessment/). It was suggested that, if Salt Spring wants to be a Complete Community, basics, like access to water, electricity, and waste disposal, are needed for all, not only those who live in homes.


That elusive dignity for those living in alternate spaces was brought up by two participants, one who had opened his property to create a community and felt that this community had been harassed by bylaw enforcers for over three decades. Another, living aboard his boat, told us that Transport Canada had recently been in Ganges Harbour tagging vulnerable boats. It was his belief that unwelcome changes were imminent. He believes that, despite some reluctance of a number of Liveaboards to speak out, only with a common voice and solidarity would imminent changes be avoided or ameliorated. There were suggestions of a Liveaboard Boaters’ Union or Assembly. Kajin responded that our Liveaboard community was a large and important community needing services, support, and safety enhancements. 


And continuing the good news, Chuan volunteers are working with those of the Mental Wellness Initiative, also working towards supporting our community. There was recognition of the new Ambassador Program of the Mental Wellness Initiative:

(https://saltspringexchange.com/2023/06/28/ask-salt-spring-with-the-coordinators-of-the-new-ambassador-program/), another important local initiative bringing connections and bridging divides.


As our time together was drawing to a close, a participant asked what the Chuan Society needed to actualize its vision of being fully-empowered to do good. Patient, seeing their work as many seeds, each taking time to grow and produce, they are undaunted by a long list of needs that includes:

  • A dedicated space for Gabriel’s Kitchen and other projects, such as a community pantry, food gardens, tool library and collective spaces,

  • A mass spectrometer,

  • More volunteers, especially those with health care skills,

  • Enhanced partnerships, especially with our local physicians,

  • A team dedicated to fundraising,

  • Private donors, including those with land and resources,

  • Charitable status to offer tax receipts to donors,

  • Food cards and winter supplies,

  • And the list goes on.


Want to help? Kajin (kajin.goh@gmail.com) would love to begin that conversation!


As we said an appreciative farewell to our amazing, hardworking, visionary, and patient guests, we were reminded that it is never good to always be the receiver: The key is to work together, everyone empowered to contribute what they can offer. (Thank-you, Kajin and Team!) 


Please join us this Friday, June 5, 11-1, in the SIMS (former Middle School) Classroom next to the Boardroom to welcome MLA Adam Olsen.


Rocked by the recent breaking news that Adam will not be seeking re-election, please join us to bid Adam “Farewell.” It will be a time of sadness, the last ASK Salt Spring opportunity to learn, laugh, and philosophize with him as our MLA. It will also be a time of appreciation for all his hard work, willingness to address those most difficult of issues, optimism, and dogged determination to support us. And, a time to express joy at the journeys we have traveled together.


Please join us Friday to welcome Adam!


Just in case you are interested. . . .This report has been written by Gayle Baker, Ph. D., founder of ASK Salt Spring, currently also a Salt Spring Local Community Commissioner. This report has also been edited by this week’s special guests.



Want to help? We welcome volunteers to join the team.

Please join us making ASK Salt Spring ever better!


Big News:

ASK Salt Spring now has ongoing funding! A heartfelt THANK-YOU to the Institute for Sustainability, Education, and Action (I-SEA) and its Executive Director, Peter Allen !!!


***New fundraising option***

You can now give the Return It change you earn from your bottles to ASK Salt Spring: Account #230.


Any questions, anytime: ask@asksaltspring.com


Want to see reports from all the ASK Salt Spring gatherings, and

monthly schedule of upcoming gatherings? Asksaltspring.com.


Want to listen to interviews of our special guests?ASK Salt Spring Answered


Want to help? ASK Salt Spring now has a Save-a-Tape box at Country Grocer.

We love your receipts! Remember: #15


Our Partners. . . .

Institute for Sustainability, Education, and Action (I-SEA), Country Grocer through Save-a-Tape and Gift Cards and Island Savings' Simple Generosity grant.

A heartfelt Thank-You!

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