Shuswap rallies for Fort McMurray fire relief

Several Shuswap community groups and businesses have begun initiatives to support Fort McMurray evacuees.

Several Shuswap community groups and businesses have begun initiatives to help provide the basic necessities to those fleeing the forest fire that devastated Fort McMurray and the surrounding area last week.

Companies QC Universal Coatings and Shuswap Trailers have teamed up to collect local donations for those affected by the Fort McMurray wildfire and deliver them to Edmonton for distribution. Numerous donations in the form of clothing, hygiene items, toys, pet-care items were collected from the community. The group of volunteers at QC Universal Coatings, organized by Brianna Lotocki, plans to leave with the trailer on Friday May 13. Lotocki, a former Fort McMurray resident, said that although it was a spur-of-the-moment effort, they have had no trouble filling the trailer. As of Monday May 9, the trailer was already so full of donations from the public that Lotocki and her fellow volunteers were having to pick and choose which incoming donations to accept. Lotocki stressed that cash donations would still be accepted.

The Larch Hills Winery, located south of Salmon Arm, raised $1,190 for fire evacuees in a period of just five days by having an auction and wine tastings by donation. A case of wine went at auction to Carl and Helga Brink from Salmon Arm for $425 an amount which Larch Hills matched. The remainder of the money was donated in exchange for wine tastings over just two days. Hazel Manser of the Larch Hills Winery said that they plan to continue tastings by donation throughout the summer months in order to raise more money for victims of the Fort McMurray fire.

The Shuswap Theatre is also donating all proceeds from the Thursday “pay as you can” performance of their production I Had A Job I Liked. Once, to the Red Cross’ fire relief effort. One of the play’s stars, Dave Wolkowski, has a personal connection to the disaster in Fort McMurray. Wolkowski’s stepson’s house has been completely destroyed by the fire.

Several other retailers in the area are collecting cash donations on behalf of the Red Cross.

Lessons in how best to provide help for wildfire victims, both during the evacuation and the rebuilding process can be learned from the community of Slave Lake’s reflections on recovery from the 2011 wildfire that destroyed much of their community.

“Many well-intentioned donations of goods arrived when Town staff needed to focus their energies elsewhere. This created a difficult situation when town staff and the recovery team were overwhelmed by the influx of donated goods, but did not want to appear ungrateful,” reads a portion of the official report on recovery from Slave Lake.

The report went on to recommend cash donations because they are simpler to administer and can be used in diverse ways. Donations of cash also maintain “dignity, pride and freedom to purchase according to personal needs,” said the report.