Rain or shine, a small group of Gambier Island residents have been helping out their fellow islanders since the beginning of the pandemic by creating a vital link to food. Now, the Gambier Grocery Group is being recognized for going above and beyond to help their community.
As 31 British Columbians – including Dr. Bonnie Henry – were honoured in a virtual ceremony for contributing to the well-being of their communities during the pandemic, among them were four Gambier Islanders: Leanne and Bobby Bruce, Terry Hall, and Joley Switzer.
“It was quite thrilling, quite emotional at times,” Bobby Bruce said of the March 24 ceremony. “It's lovely to be in the company of Bonnie Henry, at this time, for receiving this award. That was an extra special bonus.”
In a virtual presentation, MLAs introduced recipients from their constituencies. Nicholas Simons, MLA for Powell River-Sunshine Coast called the group “selfless” as they executed the complex venture for free for 15 months, twice a week.
When access to the island via the foot passenger ferry, the Stormaway, became restricted to essential travel only with the cabin off-limits to passengers, the volunteers stepped up to make sure no one went without.
“For everyone to be able to take the boat off to go get their own groceries was a burden on the system that it couldn't bear,” Bobby said.
Gambier Island has no stores or services, and the pandemic introduced health risks and safety measures limiting their access to the mainland. The spread of the virus also meant the Bruces, who work in the music industry, were out of a job. But they put their time into a good cause.
“We've always been looking for an opportunity to help the community, but we've mostly been away doing our work overseas,” Bobby said.
The Bruces have other helpers they’d like to thank, too.
“In particular, Jared Wannamaker, who passed away. He literally met us every week, and would leave his holidays to make sure that we got our food. There was been no opportunity for us to thank him,” Leanne said of the late SuperValu employee.
The Gibsons IGA, Persephone Brewing and SuperValu send provisions to the Stormaway, which delivers them to New Brighton Dock on Gambier Island.
Mike Wyness also helped by using his own boat, and couldn’t be thanked enough, Leanne said.
And they’ve been delivering the service ever since. These days, the groceries (as well as essential goods like medication) are delivered once a week to community members who need it, including people who need to self-isolate, are physically vulnerable, have mobility challenges or are working from home. A fee was introduced in July 2021, after the service had been provided for free for more than a year.
The 2021 Medal of Good Citizenship from the provincial government honours B.C.’s exceptional citizens. On March 24, Melanie Mark, the Minister of Tourism, Arts, Culture and sport presented on behalf of Premier John Horgan in a virtual ceremony.
“Over the last two years, we've all faced incredible challenges and some have struggled more than others. One thing the pandemic has shown us is the power of kindness. Perhaps like never before, we've all seen how the power of kindness and the real meaning of paying it forward during one of our generation’s most turbulent times has really got us through these difficult days,” Mark said.
This isn’t the first time the volunteers have been honoured for their efforts. In August 2020, the Gambier Island Community Association awarded them the Phil Richardson Citizen of the Year award.
When they’re not delivering goods by boat, the Bruces are delivering tunes. During the pandemic, the couple also launched Commotion on the Ocean, a socially-distanced entertainment event based on the water, which is set to return July 30. Last year, the event raised more than $11,000 for Gambier Island’s Community Centre.
With files from Sophie Woodrooffe