Donations for Fort McMurray fire evacuees overwhelm volunteers

There has been a massive outpouring of support of donations for the evacuees of the Fort McMurray wildfires from communities across the province and the country, but some are now saying, contributing directly to a charity is a better way to go.

‘Sheer volume of goods we collect from all of the communities just outweighs the need’

CEMA boss says cash to charities best way to help Fort Mac evacuees

7 years ago
Duration 0:44
Tom Sampson says city has no capacity to collect household items

Communities across the province and the country have sent a massive number of donations to help evacuees of the Fort McMurray wildfires, but officials say sending money to a charity is a better way to go.

Tom Sampson heads Calgary's emergency response to the evacuees.

He says Calgary, by design, did not set up drop-off locations for physical donations like clothing, food and baby supplies because dealing with a large number of goods becomes overwhelming. 

"You have seen that happen in Edmonton where they tried to open a warehouse and ultimately had to open a hangar at the airport to be able to handle that problem," Sampson said Saturday at the SAIT reception centre for evacuees.

CEMA chief Tom Sampson said Saturday, donating directly to a charity is the most efficient way to help, rather than physical donations like clothing or food. (CBC)

He said there is a better way to support our northern friends.

"We are encouraging you to consider the Red Cross or the charity of your choice. There are a number of other charities that are making a big difference. We simply can't handle a wealth of goods at this time," Sampson said.

Donating directly to a charity instead of looking around the house for things you no longer need, is more efficient for everyone. It means charities can buy exactly what is needed to help evacuees. 

Joanne Hamilton has arguably learned that the hard way.

She has been working all weekend with many volunteers at a car dealership in northwest Calgary and says they have received far more than they expected.

"We're having trouble figuring out where to put all this stuff," Hamilton said.

Joanne Hamilton spent all weekend with volunteers collecting donations for people affected by the Fort McMurray wildfires. She was surprised at what some people donated. (Kate Adach/CBC)

They have now filled ten 53-foot (16-metre) trucks with clothes and other donations for delivery to communities near Lac la Biche.

But that generosity created many hours of volunteer labour. Hamilton says they have received donations of things that no one could use.

"We've had some toiletries dropped off yesterday and one was a brush that had probably three inches of hair in it."

Some people took advantage of the donation drive by using it as an opportunity to get rid of junk, she said. 

"We had lots of clothes with holes in them and just garbage that should have just gone to the dump, but you can't control that because 99 per cent of the people are bringing stuff that they think people will use," Hamilton explained.

Edward McIntyre, a blogger who has volunteered to help in many disasters in the province, recently wrote a blog post which got hundreds of thousands of hits.

Edward McIntyre has volunteered to help in many disasters in the province. He says often the volume of physical donations is not directly related to need in the community. (Supplied)

"I was involved in the Slave Lake fires and the Calgary floods and various other smaller disasters that have happened here in Alberta," McIntyre told CBC's alberta@noon on Sunday.

He says often the supply of donations, however well intentioned, is disconnected from the actual need.

"The sheer volume of goods that arrive is astronomical," McIntyre said.

"The reality is in a fire like this when we have lost 1,600 structures, people aren't going to have a place to put a lot these household items for … it could be two years from now."

McIntyre says generosity is admirable but sometimes misplaced.

"The reality is right now, those [physical donations] aren't really needed. They definitely will be in the future but the sheer volume of goods we collect from all of the communities just outweighs the need."

Albertans can donate directly to the Canadian Red Cross and those donations are being matched by the federal government until the end of May.

There are other options which include frontline organizations like the Fort McMurray Salvation Army, Wood Buffalo Food Bank, United Way of Fort McMurray and many others.

With files from Kate Adach, alberta@noon