'We need every hand': Edmonton relief centres urgently need more volunteers

Emergency relief centres in Edmonton have been inundated with donations and the lineups of those in need are long. But organizers say they're in desperate need of more volunteers to help out evacuees.

Donations continue to pour in but more help is needed to get them into the right hands, organizers say

Tiffany Olson says the relief centre at the Days Inn in Edmonton desperately needs more volunteers. (CBC)

Emergency relief centres in Edmonton have been inundated with donations, and the lineups of those in need have been long.

But organizers say they're in desperate need of more people to help sort and hand out the mounds of clothing, toiletries, bedding and food.

"We need more volunteers to help, we need every hand," said Dalia Abdellatif, a volunteer for Edmonton Emergency Relief Services. "Without volunteers, we would not be able to run this place."

Dalia Abdellatif says the donation centre at Target needs more of everything. (CBC)

Hundreds of people lined up out the door Tuesday at the Target at Kingsway Garden Mall, where piles of donations were laid out on tables inside the now-defunct department store. Families waited patiently in line while volunteers worked to register everyone and get them what they need.

One woman said she's been helping the volunteers while her family waits in line, and has found great comfort among the volunteers.

"I love the spirit of really helping, everybody's welcome," said Matha, who didn't give her last name. "You really feel the sympathy. I think we lost our house, because we were in Abasan. But at least we feel that unity. These people are concerned."

Edward Murphy stood in line with his two children.

"I can't believe the support we're getting from Edmonton," he said. "The donations we have been getting, I couldn't ask for better. They're doing an excellent job."

Hundreds of evacuees line up at the old Target store at the Kingsway Garden Mall, where Edmonton Emergency Relief Services has opened a centre for those who have fled Fort McMurray. (Jacy Schindel/CBC)

But it's a big job, and the volunteers at Target — and at another relief centre at the Days Inn — are being run off their feet.

"I think we've had a few needing to go home and sleep," said Tiffany Olson, who organized the relief centre at the hotel. "They're a little tired here."

Olson said she hadn't eaten since Monday afternoon and hasn't had much sleep.

"We need some help."

Donate essentials, not used clothing

At Target, Abdellatif said the centre needs more of everything.

"We need more pillows, more blankets, more clothing, we need all the donations," she said.

But everything donated must be new, she said. That's where Olson has had some problems at the Days Inn.

A volunteer sorts through a mountain of donated clothing at the Days Inn emergency relief centre in Edmonton. (CBC)

"It seems like a lot of people are using this as a way to clean out their closets," she said, "so we are getting a bit overwhelmed with used clothing."

The centre's top priority is gathering more food donations. The volunteers who have shown up have been a "blessing," she said.

"They're so helpful and kind and compassionate, and we've heard so many stories," Olson said. "I've never hugged so many strangers in my life."

How to help

Here is a listof other resources for those looking to help out the Fort McMurray evacuees.

  • The Red Cross has set up an emergency 'Alberta Fires' appeal page for financial donations. You can also visit any Canadian Red Cross office or call 1-800-418-1111. And you can text REDCROSS to 30333 to make a $5 donation, or text FIRES to 45678 to make a $10 donation. 
  • YMMFire.ca — This site aims to help pair Albertans able to open their homes, rental properties, recreational properties, and other available space to people in need of somewhere to stay.
  • The Edmonton Food Bank is accepting donations for those affected by the Fort McMurray fires. 780-425-2133
  • Fort Mac Recovers — Residents can request help, and others can sign up to donate and volunteer.

With files from the CBC's Jacy Schindel