Edmonton inundated with donations for Fort McMurray fire evacuees
Volunteers working around the clock to sort through the supplies
When she saw the haunting images of the fire in Fort McMurray, Alta., this week, Paula Beckles just wanted to offer her help to people in their time of crisis.
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Being several hours away in Edmonton, she wasn't sure what she could do until she heard about the need for volunteers at donation centres to sort through emergency supplies for evacuees.
"Just the atmosphere of everyone coming together and being here, it feels so good," she said while boxing clothes at a donation centre Saturday.
New clothes, bottled water, toiletries, diapers and children's toys have been arriving in Edmonton from around the province and the country.
Donations have already filled three of the Edmonton Emergency Relief Services Society's storage spaces to capacity.
Hangar No. 2 at the Edmonton International Airport was the latest donation drop-off point, but that also ran out of space Saturday.
Beckles said the boxes she's been packing are being shipped to the Northlands Expo centre in Edmonton, where fire evacuees with nowhere else to go are staying.
'The response has been great'
Hundreds of people have been offering to volunteer to sort through the supplies, and others have been calling from around the country to ask what the most pressing needs are and how they can help.
"The response has been great. I've been having tons of phone calls. I'd say about 500 phone calls from Newfoundland all the way to Whitehorse," Lloyd Skinner, a co-ordinator with the Edmonton Emergency Relief Services Society, said.
In addition to sending the supplies to Northlands, Skinner said there is a distribution centre being set up at the old Target store in Kingsway Mall where evacuee families can easily get to and pick up what they need.
The biggest need, he said, is new clothes for men, women and children, as there are no facilities to wash and dry used items.
There's also a big need for footwear, underwear and socks — again, as long as they are new.
Volunteers are working around the clock due to the sheer volume of supplies being dropped off
"It's the only thing to do," volunteer Lee Wilkie said,
He said he was motivated to volunteer because he knows a lot of people in Fort McMurray and he found the stories of loss this week to be "gut-wrenching".
Dog food, diapers and children's toys have all arrived in abundance at the centre. All types of kids' toys are welcome, but second-hand stuffed toys are not wanted for hygiene reasons.
Now that the airport hangar is packed with donations, donations are being accepted at a warehouse at 9727-47 Avenue.
'I'm really proud'
Although many people have already shown up to volunteer, Skinner said the sheer volume of donations means anyone else arriving at the hangar will be put to work straight away.
He said he's been floored by the outpouring of support so far.
"I'm really proud of the response and how people came out," he said.
Beckles is encouraging people to show up even if it's for only a few hours.
"This will help tremendously," she said. "These people are so overwhelmed."
Anyone who wants to volunteer can contact the Edmonton Emergency Relief Services Society at (780) 428-4422.