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Building community relationships with a barbecue in Innisfail

RCMP and Innisfail & District Victim Services host appreciative outdoor get together with citizens and partners
MVT RCMP Victim Services barbecue 2021
Mary Dawn Eggleton, program manager for Innisfail & District Victim Services, and Innisfail RCMP Staff Sgt. Chris Matechuk serve up hamburgers and hotdogs on Aug. 18 during their annual Community BBQ outside the Innisfail RCMP detachment. Johnnie Bachusky/MVP Staff

INNISFAIL – The sun was out full and warm and igniting plenty of good cheer outside the RCMP detachment last week.

The Innisfail RCMP and Innisfail & District Victim Services hosted its annual Community BBQ on Aug. 18. Innisfail Restorative Justice Society provided the food and the Innisfail Fire Department lent the grill.

For those two hours, every day citizens, local politicians, business owners and community partners dropped by to chat over a burger or hotdog. It was mostly a chance for the Mounties and victim services to say thank you to the community, and for the latter to say it back, or maybe even just to say hello and talk about the weather.

Whatever the reason, leaders for both the RCMP and victim services were grateful to have the opportunity to meet the people up close and personal following nearly 18 months of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Community BBQ, which was hosted five consecutive years before the pandemic, has not been held since 2019.

Innisfail RCMP Staff Sgt. Chris Matechuk said this year’s reboot was done at this insistence of Mary Dawn Eggleton, program manager for Innisfail victim services, who wanted to rekindle the personal connection with the community.

“It is a great way to reach out to the community, and the people we work with, all our enforcement partners and different agencies, and speak to them in person,” said Matechuk, adding the RCMP is always appreciative for its community partnerships, including the new Policing & Safe Community Committee that was formed just before the start of the pandemic in 2019.

 “Building relationships is very important in policing and helping victims of crime,” he said. “Sometimes we talk to someone on the phone but don’t put a face to them but if they come here, we can actually see who we speak with, and define our common goals.”

Matechuk said a public event like the Community BBQ is also a good opportunity to discuss the RCMP’s community policing priorities for the year, which in 2021 were worked out in partnership with the policing committee. Those policing priorities include targeting property crime, engaging youth, and maintaining a safe and respectful community.

“It is a big part of community engagement in building relationships,” said Matechuk.

Eggleton said one big reason she wanted to bring the Community BBQ back was to express her gratitude to every citizen and group her agency worked with during the COVID pandemic.

“There are so many partnerships we call up at the last minute and say, ‘hey, can you help us with this?’ And everybody is always willing to chip in. This is our way just to say, ‘thank you,” said Eggleton, noting there was increased demands on her agency due to the stresses of the pandemic. “I think people with mental health issues struggled during COVID, and I think we see in general that people didn’t know where to turn when they needed help. We got a lot of phone calls from people saying, ‘hey, I need help don’t know whether I can even go and access these services. Where do I go?”

And it was not just for the help that came during COVID. She said her agency now has many more programming initiatives and the barbecue was again a good vehicle to express even more gratitude for that extra above and beyond help.

 “And now that we can open back up starting those new initiatives to help our victims of crime and making sure everybody is safe and everybody is able to be heard when they are entering the justice system,” said Eggleton.

For more information about Innisfail & District Victim Services visit www.innisfailvictimservices.ca