Rebbetzin Simie Schtroks was so busy preparing for Chabad of the Fraser Valley’s Chanukah programs that she didn’t pay much attention to the fact that it had been raining for two full days. But when it was still pouring mercilessly on the third morning, she knew something was seriously wrong. “We’ve been in British Columbia for thirty-eight years, but I’ve never seen anything like this,” she said.
She checked in with a family who had just moved to the Fraser Valley area. “You haven’t heard?” they exclaimed. After driving three hours to the Rocky Mountain town of Merritt, British Columbia, the family was stranded. The extreme rains brought massive landslides crashing down across the highways out of town.
On Monday, November 15, southern British Columbia received a month’s worth of rain in just twenty-four hours. The highways connecting Vancouver and the adjacent Fraser Valley with the rest of Canada were buried under landslides or cut through by washouts. Massive swaths of the Vancouver area were underwater for days, leading to at least four deaths and causing an estimated $450 million in damage. The Insurance Bureau of Canada calls it the “worst severe weather event in the province’s history.”
After realizing the scope of the damage, Rabbi Falik and Mrs. Simie Schtroks reached out to local politicians and community leaders they had worked with previously. “How can we help?” Mrs. Schtroks asked. Randeep Sarai, a British Columbian MP, told her he had been involved in an attempt to fly food into the cut-off areas. The small aircraft almost got caught in a snowstorm and had to return home, but not before seeing a crowd lined up at the landing area waiting for food. “Get them food,” he said.
“The Jewish community here doesn’t have tremendous resources,” Rebbetzin Schtroks says, “but we always prided ourselves in having a big heart.” On social media, the Schtrokses began organizing a food drive. “We are collecting ready-to-eat, non-perishable, unopened food items,” they posted to Facebook.
The community responded by opening their pantries, even providing can-openers to go along with the cans and boxes of food. One anonymous donor helped Chabad purchase large quantities of non-perishable food to accompany the community’s contributions.
Chabad partnered with Langley Jets, a group of local pilots who volunteered to fly supplies to stranded communities. On these small planes, every inch counts. The Schtrokses repackaged everything into boxes and loaded it onto the aircraft, ready for delivery. “Some people thought we had sent them Kedem Grape Juice, but no, those are just the boxes we had in our basement,” she laughs.
The pilots delivered the food to the people who needed it most, in small mountain towns which hadn’t received much help yet. Rebbetzin Schtroks estimates at least a few hundred people benefited. “Our motto is that we are a small community with a big heart, and we try to make a difference for as many people as possible,” she says.
“Every Chanukah, we talk about lighting a small spark of light that vanquishes darkness,” Simie Schtroks says. “This year, we got to put that into practice.”