It was only a few short hours after she had heard about the wildfires in Fort McMurray before owner of SugarBelle Cakery, Lindsay Quintal made the decision to open her doors to donations.
It started slow. On Thursday morning they had one table in the event room filled with primarily personal hygiene products and a few basic supplies. By Tuesday afternoon,that same room is now home to one of the largest donation distribution and supply centres in Central Alberta and has serviced over 1,000 displaced persons.
“My initial reaction was I have the space and I knew people were coming,” said Quintal on the first few days following the evacuation. “I’m really good at wanting to help,not so great at donations. I knew I wanted to take donations, but didn’t know how to go about it – then Giselle Campbell walked through my door.”
Together Quintal, Campbell, SugarBelle staff and a team of seemingly round the clock volunteers have been organizing the endless donations dropped off and redistributing them to not only the hundreds of evacuees who have stopped by the location, but also sending a steady stream of supplies north with assistance from another local, Brandy Mckenzie.
Mckenzie and her team are currently operating a similar hub out of Red Deer and have sent four semi-truck trailers full of supplies to northern neighbours.
The situation changed drastically at the Sylvan supply centre when 99 Bins of Hope reached out to organizers.
“The first few donations were manageable,” explained Quintal. “Calgary isn’t getting a tonne of evacuees right now so they had contacted us saying they had extra supplies. They told use they would send 500 hampers full of supplies – they came with 1200.”
The hampers filled the event centre of SugarBelle and spread upstairs into offices and an upper storage area. Quintal added without the amazing volunteers, the centre would not have been as successful.
“At the end of the day we’re all together. I don’t even know how to explain what has happened here,” said Quintal. “These volunteers are not here from any organization,they are just here because they know there are people who need their help.”
With a lack of distribution centres in other rural locations where many evacuees have had to temporarily relocate to, people from across much of Central Alberta have been utilizing the Sylvan Lake hub.
Quintal explained she has heard many of the evacuees’ stories, which have included tales of getting bounced from place to place with no one knowing where to send them. She added not only has the Sylvan Lake location become a place to get the bare physical necessities – it has also become a central information hub in which social media has held a valuable role.
She added if an item is in high demand or they don’t know where to get certain information they will simply make a post on Facebook and it ‘magically’ appears.
“We now know where to send people to get food, clothing, shelter, gift cards, little household needs – so they can come here and we can actually help them and tell them where to go,” said Quintal.
Currently all of the food donations the local relief effort has received are being turned over to the Sylvan Lake Food Bank as the local organization is struggling to keep food on their shelves following an influx of nearly 100 displaced families needing their services in the area.
“Right now, we are really encouraging monetary donations to local organization like Sylvan Lake and Area Community Partners. Big organizations have red tape put up everywhere for these displaced people – local organizations can give them what they need right then and there when they walk through the door.”
A duo of Fort McMurray evacuees, Logan Bingley and Shari Green agree they have faced a few difficulties when hoping for help from larger aid agencies. Green added they are happy to have finally made it Sylvan Lake.
“We started in Fort McKay. Had got evacuated north from Fort McMurray,” recalls Green. “Then we got out on the first convoy and went to Lac La Biche for a couple of days where we were just completely overwhelmed by love. It was unbelievable.”
On the day of the evacuation, both were working normal days. Green texted Bingley saying the smoke was getting pretty bad and that she had better make the drive home,which was on average 45 minutes.
By the time Green was at home, R.C.M.P. were knocking on the door of their home telling them they needed to get out and go immediately. It later took them six hours to get as far back out of the city as Green’s work as thousands attempted to evacuate at the same time.
“We could see the fire from the bedroom window. We knew we needed to get out of there and get out now,” said Green, adding they were fortunate to grab their kitty,Maggie.
Bingley and Green are now staying in Sylvan Lake and have as well found a place to foster Maggie in Sylvan Lake until they are able to return to their home in FortMcMurray.They wished to thank not only those in Sylvan Lake who have helped them, but all other Albertans along their journey here.
Donations are still being gathered at SugerBelle Cakery, with items in high demand currently being larger men’s clothes, men’s underwear, women’s underwear, food for the food bank, nail clippers, can openers, mouth wash and various other items.