Snow-shoveling, house-hunting, flight vouchers and Christmas tree donations are just a few of the requests made and fulfilled by the Yukon Helpers Network this month.
The Facebook group, which boasts a membership of 5,000 people, sees hundreds of posts and comments every week from Yukoners requesting and receiving assistance.
“It all started when the pandemic hit in March, we recognized there was a need for people to stay in touch with one another,” said founder Ashley Fewer.
“It really snowballed into this larger community of giving back to each other, and continues growing.”
In the last nine months, the Yukon Helpers Network has raised $72,000 for individuals through a series of online fundraising campaigns. This week, they officially registered as a non-profit society.
“Basically, if you need help and you’ve exhausted all resources, you can come to us and we’ll do our best to find you the answers you might need,” Fewer said.
Sometimes that’s in the form of monetary help, but it also means directions, relationships and ideas between community members, Fewer explained.
Fewer spends upwards of 80 hours per week facilitating the Yukon Helpers Network. Up until recently, she was the only person fundraising, marketing, answering messages and updating the website. She has since added a roster of four volunteers — Kelsie Blaker, Brandon Delege, Melissa Arkwell and Carrie Jackson — to help shoulder some of that workload.
“They do so much behind the scenes. They are making sure the group is running smoothly, respectfully and remaining helpful for all of our members,” Fewer said.
Since they’ve registered as a non-profit, Fewer hopes they’ll be able to enlist some funding to create employment opportunities and expand the group’s capacity for service.
Fewer and her team have spent December working on a used-toy drive, a “reverse advent calendar” and a stockings-for-seniors initiative. She has also expanded the network to include a mentorship hub and online shop.
The hub lists carpenters, computer technicians, career counsellors and good listeners with open inboxes. Fewer said a local lawyer has also offered pro bono legal services to the network, and the list of Yukoners willing to devote their time is ever-growing.
The network’s “Yukon-made mini market” sells locally crafted jewelry, footwear, crafts and ornaments. The market encourages shopping local for Christmas gifts, and endeavours to provide up-and-coming artisans with community exposure.
Some of the network’s largest GoFundMe campaigns have raised upwards of $10,000. A campaign helping a Yukoner who was in a car accident raised $15,000 in a week, with two-thirds raised in the first 24 hours.
For another family who lost its main breadwinner to sudden tragedy, $19,000 was raised.
Yukoners seeking help through the network can either make a public post to the Facebook group, or contact Fewer directly.
“One of the most heartwarming things is when our members feel comfortable reaching out to each other, to say ‘I need help,’ and the swarm of community support is remarkable,” Fewer said.
“It helps others understand that they can be vulnerable and open in our group too, and know they’re never alone.”
Fewer was moved to launch the network at the beginning of the pandemic. It was about a year-and-a-half after a car accident, and resulting post traumatic stress disorder, necessitated time away from her job.
“In that time, I’ve been stuck at home because of my anxiety and my PTSD, but having the network has allowed me to communicate with my community and still stay in touch…. When I help somebody, it’s like therapy for me,” Fewer said.
The network has become a full-time job that Fewer called extremely rewarding.
“It’s my dream job, blossoming before my eyes, and it’s because of the community,” she said.
When Cheryle Patterson’s stepson was paralyzed from the neck down in September, the Helpers Network launched a GoFundMe and online auction for him. About $12,000 has been raised so far.
“We are trying to buy a lift to make his life more enjoyable, this will make it possible for him to do more things and get out and about,” Patterson said.
The Helpers Network took charge of the fundraising and will administer the purchase of the lift.
“They’re amazing, I’m so grateful, because it took lots of stress off the family,” Patterson said.
Lisa Grenier told the News she was provided with Thanksgiving dinner — enough to feed her family of nine — after they’d fallen on hard financial times due to a combination of COVID-19 layoffs and medical problems.
“It took me three days to reach out and ask for help, pride held me back, but I did ask (and) we were gifted an entire turkey dinner,” Grenier said.
“I reached out again, as we are still struggling, to receive a Christmas dinner hamper from Yukon Helpers Network, this will help us and I can now afford to buy each grandchild a small gift.”
Since receiving help on the network, Grenier’s mechanic husband helped a single mom repair her car at low cost to pay it forward.
“I truly love that group,” Grenier said.
Daryl Cluniesross told the News that he has helped out on the network, most recently giving away a cell phone to someone in need. When he moved apartments and started a new job, the network gave back.
“Everyone has been donating whatever they can, I’ve got pots and pans, a couch, an entertainment stand,” Cluniesross said.
“It’s really good, it’s really helpful.”
Murray Lundberg, a local senior, responded to a network post from a teacher seeking opportunity for service hours for their students. A busful of students arrived at his home on Dec. 9 to shovel snow and move firewood.
“I’m 70 and was injured 17 months ago, now trying to deal with my acreage with severe limitations,” Lundberg said.
“I don’t really even have words to describe how significant this is to me, I was in tears when the teacher said they could help me.”
Patterson told the News she believes the network has a broader impact on the Yukon’s community.
“It’s bringing out the kindness and generosity of the Yukon that traditionally was here — it hasn’t been as visible for a few years but here it is again,” she said.
Yukoners can access the Yukon Helpers Network through the Facebook group or website at www.yukonhelpersnetwork.com.
Contact Gabrielle Plonka at firstname.lastname@example.org