Edmonton Islamic community giving 'home starter kits' to Fort McMurray evacuees

While some evacuees will be returning home next week, many don't know how long they will be away from home.

The boxes were originally designed to help Syrian refugees get on their feet in Canada

Patti Golding, a Fort McMurray evacuee, receives a "home starter kit" from a volunteer. (CBC/Terry Reith)

At the Islamic Circle of North America Centre in Edmonton, Umar Qasim hands out boxes. 

Just months ago he was giving these boxes to Syrian refugees, but now he's packing them for Fort McMurray wildfire evacuees. 

Qasim calls the boxes a "home starter kit" and said they contain plates, bowls, cups, cutting boards, knives, pots and pans, toothbrushes, toothpaste and more. 

"They're basic necessities for any person moving to a new place," said Oasim. "Kitchen items and bathroom items. We are packing them up in boxes and giving them to Fort McMurray evacuees."

Usman Qasim said that he has the "utmost responsibility" to help those in need. (CBC/Terry Reith)

Qasim said he got the idea for the starter kits when the Edmonton chapter of the Islamic Circle of North America (INCA) was helping Syrian refugees get on their feet. 

The refugees would be staying in hotels, Qasim said, and when they would move to apartments they lacked several key items. 

"At that time when we were volunteering with them, we realized that when they moved out they didn't have any of this in their homes."

The idea to help those from Fort McMurray came when he saw that some of the evacuees were in a similar situation. 

"We thought that this is something that these Fort McMurray evacuees, when they are moving to new apartments, they could use these." 

INCA also put on a barbecue Monday, and Qasim said he hopes that "it provides them with a little bit of normalcy."

Around 250 families attended the INCA barbecue on Monday May 23rd. (CBC/Terry Reith)

'I don't think it's any place to bring children'

The evacuees are set to make staged returns to their hometown starting June 1, but many don't know what they're returning to. 

Patti Golding was one of the evacuees at the INCA event. She said she's planning on returning to the city next week, but not for long. 

"Seeing what's there, what's not there and maybe grabbing a few things and then heading back this way for a couple more weeks until there are more services available," she said.

She's worried the community might not be livable right now. It is likely to be far from the home they once had.

"I wouldn't want to live there yet. I think there's a lot of uncertainties," said Golding.

Jennifer Samms will also be returning home to Fort McMurray, but she won't be bringing her two daughters.

"I don't think it's any place to bring children," she said. "Most of the city, I'm expecting to see, like, still ash everywhere over everything , like vehicles that people left behind, properties abandoned.

"Like, it's going to be overwhelming." 

with files from Terry Reith