Local organization joined by neighbouring teams to assist in wildfire
By Dawn Booth, Connect Weekly
When residents fled the region two months ago, an army of courageous individuals stayed behind to help assist first responders and city workers. Today, the Salvation Army of Fort McMurray is working hard to reopen shelter programs for the homeless population.
“During a very difficult time, it was rewarding to be able to provide support to our first responders and municipal workers who worked long and exhausting hours,” said Major Bond Jennings, an associate corps officer of the Salvation Army of Fort McMurray. “If giving a cup of coffee, providing a hot meal, or a word of encouragement in a challenging time brought hope, we are pleased that in some small way the Salvation Army was able to do that.”
On May 1, members from the Salvation Army of Fort McMurray’s Community & Family Services team were assisting residents from Prairie Creek, Gregoire and Centennial Park at the Evacuation Centre at MacDonald Island by providing new clothes and personal hygiene items.
The next day, the Army’s Community Response Unit (CRU) was deployed to Fort McMurray’s Fire Hall No. 5 in Gregoire to serve breakfast to first responders and the emergency response teams who had been busily working the weekend prior – when the wildfire was first merging into city limits. It was initially planned to have the response unit stay at the station to provide meals and snacks until May 3.
Joan Nobles, program manager of the Salvation Army, said she was at the Community Services centre at MacDonald Avenue when the mandatory evacuation was called.
“Some of our managers and I were at the centre to ensure clients were transported to the MacDonald Island reception area, and then we closed down,” she recalled. “Already the cinders were dropping around us as we left the building through the black, thick smoke. Looking southward, the sky was an eerie, orange colour. It was something I have never seen before and I hope I never have to again.”
After State of Emergency had been declared, new plans were put in place to deploy three CRU trucks, along with several teams from Edmonton, Lethbridge and Saskatoon, to come help on the ground. Due to the nature of the fire, teams were unable to recruit until two days later on May 5.
In the following four weeks, the CRU teams provided an estimated 15,745 hot meals and over 50,000 cups of coffee to people on the ground in Fort McMurray.
“Our truck remained onsite from 6 a.m., until 1 a.m. with teams working in shifts, so that services could be provided,” said Major Marina Jennings. “A big hit among the first responders became the ‘Grilled Cheese Time’ that happened nightly starting at around 9 p.m.
Salvation Army continues to provide daily support to those in need
As residents returned to the region in early June, the Army brought in 40 chaplains to help assist with the re-entering process.
“We were located at all the information centres where we served refreshments and snacks, and supported people by providing emotional care,” Major Marina Jennings said.
The Army’s church also set up as a distribution centre at 125 Elmore Drive, where people were provided with clothing, footwear, food, mattresses, toiletries, bedding and financial assistance.
“We have also helped Wood Buffalo housing as they prepared apartments for those displaced,” she further noted.
Now, after a month of the official re-enter announcement, Nobles shared the downtown centre has been “extremely busy” and has been providing additional beds at their emergency shelter.
“We hope to re-open our MAT program soon, so that our homeless individuals will have a safe place to return amidst the unsafe terrain and bear invasion,” said Nobles. “Staffing, like most social profits and businesses had been a challenge, which meant some managers worked longer hours to meet the demand.”
The downtown centre also lost a majority of its food supplied, which resulted in making new orders.
“We are experiencing an increase in meals served, especially at supper time. We fared well with our building with only little smoke,” she said. “Our thrift store has been seen a continual line of donations arriving daily, which can only speak to the great generosity of our neighbours.”
Due to the outpour, representatives are asking to give them some time to process the donations.
“We have been receiving various donations. People have been extremely generous and we are most grateful for this,” she said. “Right now, it would be helpful to be able to process the donations already received – most specifically, clothing items. Monetary donations are most helpful as it provides a way to meet specific requests.”
Monetary donations can be made at SalvationArmy.ca/albertafires or by calling 1-800-SAL-ARMY. A $10 donation can also be made by texting FORTMAC to 45678.
– Connect Weekly –