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Beacon of hope: United Way bringing back Tree of Lights to Prince George amid COVID-19

Fundraising goal of $30,000 earmarked for fighting overdose crisis
The United Way of Northern BC Tree of Lights. (via Hanna Petersen, PrinceGeorgeMatters)

A Prince George-based non-profit is looking to bring joy and hope for local residents feeling isolated and alone as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The United Way of Northern BC (UWNBC) is set to bring back its Tree of Lights for a second straight year following a two-year absence prior to 2019.

While UWNBC aims to bring awareness on several public issues, this year’s 60-foot symbol is set to spotlight an issue that’s coincided with the pandemic and continues its own wave across B.C.

“In response to these ever-increasing needs, UWNBC has set a fundraising goal of $30,000 with proceeds going towards raising awareness and support of programs and services to fight the #unignorable issue of ‘drug abuse and overdose’ in Prince George and other issues that surround it, like mental wellness and basic needs,” the organization states in a news release today (Nov. 11).

“The holiday season can make these issues even more prevalent, amplifying already fragile situations and putting further pressure on already waning resources.”

As of Oct. 20, the BC Coroners Service has reported 38 illicit drug overdoses in Prince George in 2020, including nine from the month of September and 29 of the total were a result of fentanyl-laced drugs.

Northern Health currently has the highest death rate by illicit drugs at 44 per 100,000 individuals.

“With this additional crisis of overdose in B.C. running parallel to the pandemic, we feel it’s an important yet often polarizing issue to stand up for across northern B.C.,” says UWNBC Executive Director Trista Spencer.

“The things we have learned from our outreach during this last year is that mental health and addictions knows no social boundaries and is affecting our youth to our elders in ways we didn’t imagine it could. With these learnings we are keen to bring the needed resources to ensure anyone who is vulnerable receives the information and support they need to not just survive but thrive.”

In 2019, UWNBC raised more than $25,000 for mental health supports after it chose to extend the campaign into the new year.

The funding went to organizations like the Canadian Mental Health Association, Foundry and Intersect Youth and Family Services.

The Tree of Lights is expected to arrive at the Coast Prince George Hotel tomorrow (Nov. 12) at 11 a.m. where it’ll sit atop of the building for the holiday season.

UWNBC says the public is invited to watch the hoisting, but is asked to wear a mask and maintain physical distance, or watch from the comfort of their own vehicle.

- with files from Jess Fedigan and Hanna Petersen, PrinceGeorgeMatters