BLOG | Helping High River flood victims, one room at a time

In the early days after the flood I had many friends outside our community send me messages asking what they could do to help. I eventually came across an organized effort called Room In a Box that I thought was brilliant.

Calgary woman partners with the Salvation Army for Room In a Box charity drive

A charity project called Room In a Box is supplying flood victims in High River with the supplies they need for bedrooms, bathrooms and so on. (Angela Piovesana/CBC)

High River residents Angela Piovesana and Amanda Pawlitzki will be blogging over the summer about their experiences during and after the floods that hit southern Alberta.

They'll tell stories of the recovery through the eyes of people who live there.

In the early days after the flood I had many friends outside our community send me messages asking what they could do to help. Overwhelmed by the scope of the disaster we were facing, all I could tell them was to donate to a charity.

I eventually came across an organized effort called Room In a Box that I thought was brilliant.

This organized effort was created by Tamara Carmell. She lives in north Calgary and was inspired by her cousin Lani Gwilt, who owns a house in High River in the Hamptons — one of the hardest-hit communities.

Tamara wanted to help not only her cousin but as many residents as possible and wanted to make donating as simple as possible.

Tamara Carmell, who created Room In a Box, and Garry Pearce of the Salvation Army are working hard to get High River flood victims the things they need to rebuild their lives. (Angela Piovesana/CBC)

"This is an easy way for people to donate who may not be able to do hard labour or take time away to physically help," Tamara explained. "All they have to do is bring a list with them when they are doing their own shopping, pick up a box and begin to fill it as they find the items."

Tamara has created a list for each box by room. These lists are available on the Room in a Box Facebook page under photos.

She asks that people donate only new items and do their best to co-ordinate items as if they were shopping for their own kitchen or bathroom, etc.

She has also forged a partnership with Garry Pearce of the Salvation Army. He’s helping to inspect the boxes as they arrive and ensures their safe keeping.

Residents of High River will be required to register with the Salvation Army to receive the boxes when they are ready to move back in to their remediated homes, or when they have made new arrangements in the event their prior residence is no longer available.

To date Tamara has almost filled an entire storage container located on the grounds of the Salvation Army Church on Second Avenue in High River. She has inspired companies to jump on board and supply completed boxes.

A quilt store in Moose Jaw has organized a group of quilters to deliver 230 hand-made quilts to Room in a Box. Tamara will be asking for donations of pillows, blankets and other bedroom items to complete those boxes.

Salvation Army gets new structure to house donations

Garry is looking forward to relocating to a new structure which will serve as a temporary space for the Salvation Army until their facilities have been remediated.

This 6,000-square-foot space will house only new items that have been donated for the residents of High River. Tamara will be setting up Room in a Box in one corner of the structure and organize it by rooms to make it easy for families to access what they need.

Staples has eight truck loads of new office furniture waiting to be delivered. Mark’s Work Warehouse has donated items such as work boots, work wear and summer and winter clothing for men and women.

And the donations continue to arrive from other corporate contributors. Garry shared one yet-to-be confirmed donation consisting of 1,500 complete bedroom suites. And once they are in the larger structure and out of the temporary trailers he expects they will be receiving more bulk shipments.

Save On Foods in B.C. delivered 126 hampers for the people of High River (Angela Piovesana/CBC)

The food donations have been coming in since the beginning while they were serving hot meals in many of the communities affected. No longer cooking hot meals, they continue to hand out hampers.

"Our purpose is to support the community as it comes back and since we now have restaurants open we stopped cooking meals to help support businesses," Garry said.

Save On Foods in B.C. delivered 126 hampers for distribution this week. Each family will receive two hampers, one with toiletries and the other with food items. They are beautifully packaged in green recycle shopping baskets.

Every Thursday they are open until 7 p.m. to accommodate families that cannot make it out during the day. In addition to the hampers, which families can pick up weekly, they will receive a $100 Visa card on their first visit.

Both Tamara and Garry emphasize brand new small appliances and the Rooms In a Box donations will begin to be a growing need as remediation of homes near completion. They encourage people to do what they can as the need will continue.

"Every day we need three or four volunteers and eight to 10 on Thursdays, but lately we have only been getting about half the volunteers we need," Garry says.

Tamara expresses her compassion and the reason she started this important project.

"These people are facing the most staggering losses I’ve ever seen. So many people have had to throw out everything they own due to mold. It’s hard to imagine!."

These boxes will be greatly appreciated as many homeowners will be tapped out and shopped out from the expenses and efforts of remediating their homes.