Whenever there’s a major charitable effort taking place on the Semiahmoo Peninsula, particularly if it benefits society’s most vulnerable people, one wouldn’t have to look hard to find the name John Block.
Either standing at the front and organizing a fundraiser, or observing quietly from the back as a contributor, Block and his wife Rose, who are celebrating their 50th anniversary this year, have been household names to Peninsula social service providers for the past 30 years.
And while the couple, who have lived in the area since 1983, do philanthropy work simply because they enjoy it, they were treated with some well-deserved recognition this week.
At Monday’s regular council meeting, the City of Surrey named John Block the Surrey Good Citizen of the Year. And while it’s John’s name on the award, Rose’s contribution is worth equal recognition, John said.
In an interview with Peace Arch News this week, Block said he was humbled and honoured by the award, although he was quite surprised when Mayor Doug McCallum phoned him to share the news.
“When I first got the call from Doug McCallum I thought somebody was playing a trick on me,” Block said. “Is this some kind of joke?”
“I thought, why is a politician calling me? We don’t normally contribute to political campaigns and that kind of thing, so I thought what is this all about? And then he said, ‘Oh, by the way, you’ve been selected for the Citizen of the Year,’” Block said.
“I was just absolutely blown away.”
The list of projects that the Blocks have been part of is extensive, but recent efforts include work with the Volunteer Cancer Drivers Society; the Rotary Save-On-Foods gift card program; work with Sources Community Resource Centre; and the White Rock Rotary’s Feed My City program.
“We are thrilled to see John being recognized as Surrey’s Good Citizen of the Year,” Sources CEO David Young told PAN.
“John has been a community champion and friend of Sources for many years through his volunteerism and generous contributions to a number of Sources programs including the White Rock/South Surrey Food Bank, the Women’s Place and Volunteer Services.”
Block, with support from Save-On-Foods president and South Surrey resident Darrell Jones, founded the Rotary Save-On-Foods Gift Card program. As part of the program, Block explained, the Rotary club purchases Save-On-Food cards at an eight per cent discount. Rotary then resells the gift cards for their face value and the difference goes to the food bank.
In addition to the eight per cent discount, Block said, various sponsors in the community contribute a donation to the food bank equal to one per cent of the value of the cards that are sold every 90 days.
“So approximately 20 per cent of the value of every food card we sell goes to the food bank. In the last five years, we’ve sold approximately $2.4 million worth of food cards raising about $480,000 for our local food bank,” Block said.
Block is also involved in the Sources Coldest Night of the Year event and Sources mental health programs for youth and young adults.
George Garrett, who co-founded the Volunteer Cancer Drivers Society, described Block as a “fixture in the community.”
The society takes people to and from their cancer treatment appointments, for free, throughout the Lower Mainland.
“Not only did he give us money through the John Block Foundation but he gave me a lot of encouragement and good advice at the time,” Garrett said. “That was back in 2016, and he was one of our first very strong supporters.”
Block said he was inspired to give back to the community by his parents at a very early age. His earliest memory, he said, was listening to his father talk about supporting the Union Gospel Mission and the food bank.
“At a very early stage in my life, our parents were very community involved,” Block said. “They always encouraged my sisters and I that it was important to give back to those that were less fortunate than us.”
Block, who is a member of White Rock Baptist Church, said he’s constantly reminded that “the second most important commandment is love your neighbour as yourself.”
“In our world, that means you find a need and you meet it. You go out there and contribute to those that are struggling that have a need,” Block said.
“We are people that are privileged, we live in nice homes, we have enough to eat. There are so many out there, particularly in recent years with COVID, that are really struggling. It brings us a lot of joy to be in a position where we can give our time as well as our resources.”
The Good Citizen of the Year is awarded to a Surrey resident or business owner who has given outstanding service for the last 15 years and whose volunteer contributions have made a positive impact on the city and the people.
Block said his family hopes that the award is an encouragement to others to contribute.
“I realize that there are many hero’s out there that nobody knows about, but they know who they are and they are so much appreciated,” Block said.