As with almost every business in this country, local governments have felt the pinch of COVID-19.
With rec centres and libraries shuttered and other services curtailed due to the pandemic, many city halls have laid off staff.
This includes 1,480 staff laid off in Halifax; 3,000 at the City of Edmonton and 1,500 with the City of Vancouver.
The list goes on.
But thankfully, not in Squamish.
Twenty-two employees, primarily from the District of Squamish recreation services department, were redeployed to support critical roles that arose because of COVID-19.
At the Squamish Food Bank, District staff packed and delivered more than 40 hampers each week.
Staff assisted at a new Warming Hut, set up in the library foyer to accommodate vulnerable community members.
Staff helped with the Squamish Helping Hands and District 48 school lunch program, Food4Kids, according to Maureen Mackell, executive director of SHH, who raved about the collaboration with many at the District during this pandemic.
A total of more than 6,000 lunches were made over three and a half months.
Mackell said District staff has also been able to redirect callers looking for volunteer opportunities for nonprofits, too.
For the Better at Home Seniors Program, staff spent several hours a week making phone calls to check in on seniors, as well as helping with gardening, deliveries and other outreach assistance.
With Sea to Sky Community Services, staff helped with deliveries and did some cleaning.
An additional 12 employees supported internal District roles during the shutdown.
The Better at Home and the Food Bank support continues as reopening gets underway.
“We are very proud of District staff and the union who, together, initiated and co-ordinated this program which resulted in many benefits to support urgent needs, and kept employees connected to their community and their workplace through a tough time,” Mayor Karen Elliott told The Chief.
Redirecting municipal staff also saved those staffers from going on the dole.
While layoffs have been the norm during this time, they have a long-lasting impact on individuals’ personal and family income, on the local economy and on people’s mental health.
And the federal government emergency payments to the laid-off are quickly adding up, leaving the question hanging of how they are going to ultimately be paid back.
As of June 28, more than $53.5 billion has been paid out and that number keeps growing by the week.
There will be some who say positions should have been cut at the District to save the municipality — and thus the taxpayer — money.
But there is a cost to penny-pinching too.
One way or the other, society pays for those we let suffer from hunger, poverty, loneliness, drug addiction and homelessness.
So why not lend a hand to those in need when our hands aren’t needed somewhere else?
And if not municipal staff in times of crisis, then who?
Perhaps the District’s efforts should serve as an example for more municipalities and companies to use their labour for good.