Vancouver-area Sikhs send truckloads of donations to Fort McMurray evacuees
Organizers set a goal of one truckload and quickly had to find two more trucks for all the donations
Three semi trucks full of donations collected by the members of the Vancouver-area Sikh community are now heading for Edmonton to help with the relief effort for thousands of Fort McMurray residents forced from their homes.
The massive fire that swept through Fort McMurray destroyed parts of the city and continues to burn.
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Donation drive coordinator Avtar Gill said the original goal of one truckload was quickly met, and within 48 hours, organizers had to find two more trucks to take all the donations north to Edmonton.
"I feel so proud of the community," said Gill. "Every person, from a small child, to old person is helping."
Many aid organizations discourage the donation of goods, preferring direct monetary donations, but the Edmonton Emergency Relief Services Society welcomes efforts like the one undertaken near Vancouver.
"The items are definitely needed and the community ... that has gathered this for us is absolutely outstanding," said Edmonton Emergency Relief Services spokesperson Nicole Geoffrey.
"[The relief centres] are still very desperate. We still have evacuees coming in daily from the wildfires. We still have them coming in, so there is still a state of desperation there," she said.
Harminder Dhaliwal is one of the three truck drivers donating his time, truck, and more than $1,000 in fuel to transport the donations to Edmonton.
"It's about 80,000 pounds in total, for one trailer, so I've got about 44,000 pounds of goods in it, so all kinds of supplies for the people out there," he said.
"I'm paying all out of our pockets, but it's not that big of a deal. I think it's nothing — it's very little. That's the best I could do from my job point," he said.
"In my career, I've done a lot of hauls to Fort McMurray, and I've made a lot of money from there, too. So now it's a time to pay some back."
Kiran Saluja is a mortgage specialist who was taking time in between meetings on Monday to help organize and load all of the food and supplies into the three trailers.
"The people our Sikh community, they're always willing to help. You just tell them one time and they just continue. Everybody wants to help," she said.
"If [the Fort McMurray fire victims] need anything else, just let us know and we'll provide it," said Saluja.
Geoffroy said monetary donations are certainly welcomed by the Edmonton Emergency Relief Services Society, but the group isn't turning away donations of food and new clothing.
She asks that donors contact the group at (780) 428-4422 to ensure there's a need and capacity to accept the goods being sent.
Geoffroy also suggests checking to see what new items are in highest demand each day.
As for the Sikh community that rallied to collect and ship so many supplies, they're not finished: on Saturday there's a plan to send five more truckloads to northern Alberta.
That effort will be focused on items like new clothing and shoes.
"That's been our values — the core values. That's what our religion says," said Dhaliwal as he prepared to drive through the night to Edmonton. "It doesn't matter who it is, if anybody needs help from us we should go out and lend a hand."