SIDNEY -- Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the men and women who transport essential cargo on Vancouver Island are having a hard time finding a place to grab a bite to eat, clean up or catch some rest.

To help those drivers get the support that they need, the Town of Sidney has created a "critical-supply chain rest stop" at the Mary Winspear Centre parking lot, next to Highway 17.

"We are going to provide a place for them to use washroom facilities," said Sidney Fire Chief Brett Mikkelsen. "It is directly adjacent to food stores that are staying open 24 hours a day… Hopefully this will be a step to keep the critical supply chain open in these unique times."

The need for a rest stop was identified through the town’s emergency operations centre. The drivers delivering essential supplies were finding public restrooms and restaurants closed amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“They are having a lot of difficulty in continuing to operate,” said BC Trucking Association president Dave Earle. “As more and more operations close to outside public traffic, it becomes increasingly difficult to access facilities.”

In the past, drivers could get a meal while traveling to and from the island by ferry, but because BC Ferries has suspended food services due to COVID-19, that is no longer an option. 

The new rest stop has a McDonalds and Tim Hortons restaurant nearby so drivers will have access food. 

“The rest stop in Sidney is important to our drivers because it provides them with the support that is so absolutely critical especially during this time,” said Earle. “It is the first on Vancouver Island – to my knowledge it is the first in British Columbia – and we are absolutely thrilled that it has been put in place.”

Earle said drivers are very conscious of maintaining physical distance in order to comply with the directive of provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.

"We are very confident that drivers who are in the field are being very attentive to social isolation rules,” said Earle. “In these unusual times, traditional methods of doing business have to change."

The rest stop can be used by drivers for just a few hours or overnight, depending on delivery schedules. Sidney staff will maintain the rest stop by providing garbage removal, restroom maintenance and lot cleaning. 

“It’s excellent, it’s directly adjacent to our community-safety building so we will keep eyes on it,” said Mikkelsen. “It provides drivers with a place they know they can come so we wanted to be able to assist them in the best way we could."

The critical supply chain rest stop had a soft opening for truck drivers Thursday, but will be fully operational Friday.