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'Kamloops loves Fort Mac': B.C. wildfire evacuees grateful for donations

Kamloops residents have a special message for Fort McMurray after receiving tonnes of donations for wildfire victims from the Alberta city over the last five days.

'We're saying in Kamloops, 'Fort McMurray, you are our first responders,' ' says food bank director

The Kamloops Food Bank unpacks a truckload of donations that was sent from Fort McMurray to B.C. wildfire victims. (David Thurton/ CBC)

Kamloops residents have a special message for Fort McMurray after receiving tonnes of donations for wildfire victims from the Alberta city over the last five days.

"We're saying in Kamloops, 'Fort McMurray, you are our first responders,' " Bernadette Siracky, executive director of the local food bank said. "Every single bit of product is so thoughtful."

As of Friday morning, the Kamloops food bank had received 100,000 pounds of donations from Fort McMurray.

British Columbia is in the midst of battling hundreds of active wildfires that have so far displaced 16,000 people.

The conditions mirror last summer's Fort McMurray wildfire, which forced more than 80,000 people to flee their homes.

With the 2016 wildfire still in the minds of Fort McMurray residents, ad hoc donation centres began popping up on Saturday on streets and in parking lots in the city.

'Sharing your love and support'

The Kamloops food bank said Fort McMurray was on the ball with donations.

On Monday morning, a trailer arrived at the food bank with "To B.C. with love," written on it.

Staff and volunteers are finding little notes written on items. One person sent Ziploc bags with pet food that had a toy in each one.

"We feel like you are sharing your love and support through toilet paper, diapers and we are so incredibly grateful," Siracky said.

Items for first responders were sent to the Kamloops airport where firefighters and water bombing crews are based.

All donations are only going to evacuees or first responders and they're running out, Siracky said. Trucks have also been delivering items to more remote areas where help hasn't been so quick to arrive.

The food bank acknowledges there have been confusing messages from the government urging people to send money as opposed to donating items.

Siracky said that might be because the government doesn't have the staff to sort and distribute it all at the moment.

However, local organizations like the food bank have the capacity and labour to sort and distribute it, she said.

"People want to help and they feel helpless," Siracky said. "This is giving them an opportunity to do something meaningful and powerful to help. When you are just giving money, it doesn't feel the same. So I think there needs to be a bit of a balance."

The food bank said it doesn't need any clothes but it does need food and hygiene products.

Organizers in Fort McMurray continue to respond to that call. Some are now in Edmonton collecting food and other donations.

"I felt we needed to do a little bit more and go the extra mile, so we headed up the highway," volunteer Crystal Purcell said from a donation drop-off centre at the Argyll Plaza Hotel in Edmonton.

Updates on drop-off locations and times can be found on this Facebook group.

On Thursday, the Alberta government said it had sent five air tankers, two bird dog planes, 3,000 lengths of hose, 125 firefighters and support staff to B.C.

The RCMP has also deployed 40 members from its Alberta special tactical operations unit.

The Wood Buffalo municipality said Thursday evening it hasn't received any request for firefighters but it has sent respirators, air filters and well wishes. 

Follow David Thurton, CBC's Fort McMurray correspondent, on FacebookTwitter or contact him via email.

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