Welcome Wagon provides friendly faces

Newcomers to Lake Cowichan have at least one community member who’s already waiting to meet them.

Lindy Hannigan

Newcomers to Lake Cowichan — whether they’ve recently moved here or were recently born here — have at least one community member who’s already waiting to meet them.

Maureen Loebus, coordinator of Welcome Wagon Canada’s local chapter, distributes free gift baskets to recent arrivals to the community and to families already here who have newborn babies.

“It’s the first personal welcome they get,” said Loebus.

The baskets contain a variety of gifts donated by local businesses, with items ranging from candy to water bottles to toothbrushes, and lots of gift cards and special coupons. The baskets for people new to town also includes information from the tourist centre, from civic organizations and community groups.

“This is a really important welcome to a community because of all the different things that are in the basket,” said Loebus. “For somebody to go to all of these individual businesses and then tourist info centre, the town hall, the police, the fire department — it would take them forever. They’d never do it. But here they get the whole kit and caboodle all in one fell swoop.”

The baby basket contains copies of Island Parent magazine, toys and information pamphlets about local resources.

“My friends who say they didn’t get a welcome basket when they moved in, I tell them, ‘Well have a baby and I’ll bring you the baby basket,’” Loebus said jokingly.

While the Welcome Wagon program has been active in Lake Cowichan for more than 20 years, Loebus has been on the job since October and said it’s not uncommon for newcomers to get missed. She said after being in town for a year and a half, a person or family is no longer eligible for a basket.

Nicole Lalonde, who moved to Lake Cowichan just over a year ago from Fort St. John, was recently contacted by Loebus about receiving a basket.

Lalonde said she appreciates the gesture and it only underscores what a nice community she now calls home.

“It’s great,” she said. “It’s a beautiful town.”

And while new citizens benefit from the basket program, participating businesss do as well according to Loebus.

“It’s open to anyone. We have realtors, small businesses, big businesses. Anyone who would benefit from an introduction to new people coming in,” she said, urging potentially interested local business to give her a call. “I’d be happy to explain how it works. It’s very inexpensive advertising.”

Lindy Harrigan, co-owner of the Shaker Mill Restaurant, is getting her establishment involved.

“I think it’s a good way to get new people to know that we’re here,” she said. “Some people miss us, they don’t even know we exist.”

She said the program is also a way to promote the live music nights at the restaurant every Friday.

Doug Fast, manager of Home Hardware, has also signed his business up.

“We believe it’s important to support our community and new people coming,” he said. “Because I’m new to the community, when I got my basket I wanted to know, ‘Well how can we get our store involved?’”