Virtual generosity: volunteers flood web with offers to help Lac-Mégantic

People from near and far offer services in the tragedy-stricken community.
A woman drops off donations in front of the refugee centre at the local high school Sunday, July 7, 2013, in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz)

The loss of her best friend in the Lac-Megantic disaster hasn't sapped Isabelle Côté of her desire to help others.

While mourning the death of her friend of 40 years, since childhood, Côté has volunteered her time to others in the tragedy-stricken community.

She's not alone.

"I want to somehow repay the love and friendship she gave me," said Côté of her longtime companion, Natasha, who was one of many who walked into the Musi-Café bar a week ago and never walked out.

After searching online Côté, who currently lives in Trois-Rivieres, Que., found a site that allowed her to offer volunteer services.

She posted that offer on the online forum on the Support Lac-Megantic website. As of Friday evening, six-dozen people had posted messages like hers.

The website, which is partnering with the Red Cross, has begun allowing volunteers to publicly offer their services to the people of Lac-Megantic.

The community is in the early stages of what promises to be a difficult recovery, with its downtown core razed to the ground and 50 of its residents presumed killed.

Anyone who wants to lend a hand can provide their first and last name, an email address and details of what services they can offer. Some of the offers are technical — such as help with restoring Internet service.

One says she can help translate documents. Others extend a more general invitation. For instance, one person offers an ear to listen.

In her own post, Cote writes that she has the summer off work and is available to help the community "however I can." Even if she's reached out to help others, she still hasn't processed her own loss.

"It just doesn't compute that someone was a part of your life for 40 years, and the next day they just... aren't," she said. "I don't realize she's gone yet."

But what she has been able to grasp is the disheartening reality that her own feelings are not unique in the devastated town.

"All of the families in Lac-Megantic are living this," she said. "You can listen to one story or another — but really, they're all just like this one."

That's why she thinks it's important to make sure everyone has enough support to keep going.

Posts range from blanket offers — of things like, "whatever you need," — to others that make very specific skill sets available.

  • Daniel Blais has 14 years' computer experience, and can help people re-connect people's Internet.
  • Michelle Corcos is offering free acupunture treaments from her clinic in Sherbrooke, Qc.
  • Renee Gregoire has a set of open ears, and is ready to listen.
  • Ann Marie Boulanger can translate from French to English, and wants to make sure locals can communicate with people across Canada and the United States.
  • Isabelle Richard has room in her house for a family of four. She has offered to go stay at her parents' place, leaving her condo, with space for a family of four, up for grabs.

All of these people, and dozens more, are offering help — they're just waiting for people to take them up on it.