Street sign seeks volunteers to load aid for victims of the wildfire in Fort McMurray. Photo: Modfos/Shutterstock
As evacuees from Fort McMurray contemplate waiting weeks before they can return to their fire-ravaged city, Anglicans are continuing to reach out in support.
On Friday, May 6, The Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF) announced an initial grant of $15,000 to the diocese of Athabasca, in which Fort McMurray falls, to help with its immediate needs. This, PWRDF said, includes helping the parishes of Athabasca, Northern Lights and Lac La Biche—which are closest to Fort McMurray—provide food, water, clothing, toiletries, bedding and other supplies to evacuees in these parishes.
As of press time Tuesday, May 10, PWRDF was still working with the neighbouring diocese of Edmonton on an aid package also. In the meantime, PWRDF said, it had asked the diocese of Edmonton to let its parishes know PWRDF is ready to provide funds for the purchase of relief supplies.
Thousands of evacuees have fled to Edmonton or other communities within the diocese, and diocesan clergy are among those giving pastoral support to evacuees in the city’s Northlands Expo Centre, the main gathering place for evacuees in the city, PWRDF said. Numerous Anglican churches in Edmonton are among those hosting evacuees.
PWRDF is also accepting donations for wildfire relief efforts. As of Monday, May 9, these donations totalled $24,000.
Support has also been coming from the diocesan level, said Bishop Fraser Lawton of the diocese of Athabasca.
“I’ve heard from a number of dioceses—including, actually, one from outside of Canada—saying, ‘Let us know what you need’...People have been very generous,” Lawton said.
Bishop Jane Alexander, of the diocese of Edmonton, hsd asked local Anglicans to contact the synod office if they can temporarily host evacuees. She has also asked all the parishes in the diocese to give their open offering to PWRDF or the Red Cross for relief work.
“This is of course an extraordinary ask, but these are extraordinary times and I hope you will give generously as you are able,” she said.
Similar measures have been taken by at least one other bishop in Canada. On Saturday, May7, Bishop John Chapman, of the diocese of Ottawa, issued a statement requesting parishes across the diocese to ask for contributions from parishioners Sunday morning. The donations would be sent in addition to contributions from the diocese itself, Chapman said.
Local volunteers have also made a big difference to evacuees, Lawton said.
“Any time we run into a need with relief at shelters or things like that, as soon as word gets out, people step up and that’s taken care of,” he said. “The generosity’s been incredible.”
A priest in Boyle, Lawton said, told him a woman over the weekend had driven four or five hours from a community in Saskatchewan to drop off a $200 donation at the town’s community centre.
People have also been donating to the diocese, Lawton said. As of late Monday, May 9, wildfire relief donations through its website totalled more than $5,000.
About 2,400 buildings—almost a tenth of the buildings in Fort McMurray—are reported to have been destroyed by the fire that swept into the city last week. Although the fire was still spreading through forests east of the city, Fort McMurray itself was deemed safe enough Monday for a tour by Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, government officials and reporters.
Much of the city’s “critical infrastructure”—all of its schools, its hospital and many municipal buildings, for example—are still standing. But officials say it could still be weeks before it’s safe enough for the 88,000 people evacuated from the city to return home.
Many evacuees are now staying in small communities south of Fort McMurray. One of these, Lac La Biche, with a population of only 2,500, is now hosting “thousands” of evacuees, PWRDF said.
Lawton said it’s too early to know how much money will be needed to help those affected by the fire. For one thing, extent of the damage is still hard to gauge. Every single building in the city will have to be inspected, he said, because even buildings not directly touched by the blaze may have been damaged by smoke or flying embers.
Thus, although the diocese believes all its buildings in Fort McMurray are still standing, it’s too early to declare they haven’t been damaged, Lawton said.
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Tali Folkins has worked as a staff reporter for the Law Times and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. His writing has appeared in The Globe and Mail and The United Church Observer.
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