Current and Archived News Stories
By Kryzia Abacan
On the afternoon of May 3, 2016, a mandatory evacuation was issued for the residents of Fort McMurray, Alberta. A harmless forest fire in the distance quickly evolved into a threatening wildfire, endangering the lives of the city’s citizens. Approximately 80,000 residents of Fort McMurray fled from their homes, seeking refuge in places north and south of the city. Along with other organizations, Adventist church members and entities in Canada sprang to action at the onset of the crisis.
The Local Church Response
The nearest major city south of Fort McMurray is Edmonton, the capital of the Province of Alberta. With an influx of evacuees en route, city officials and residents needed to formulate a plan for accommodation immediately.
The Edmonton South Seventh-day Adventist Church also recognized the need for a quick response.
|Photo supplied by ACS/W. Derrick Lea|
While residents of Fort McMurray received the evacuation order, Pastor John Murley and his elders were holding their regularly scheduled elder’s meeting. One of the topics for discussion was the Fort McMurray fire. In the midst of discussion, phones began to ring and vibrate with news that the entire city of Fort McMurray was issued a mandatory evacuation order.
“We’re sitting in our board room, a bunch of elders, looking at each other in disbelief that this happening,” recalls Murley, head pastor of Edmonton South church. “But at the same time, we’re asking, ‘How can we help?’”
Keeping in mind their goal as a church to be more involved and make a difference in the community, the church quickly decided that they would open their church doors for evacuees who needed a place to stay, as well as collect donations to help with immediate needs.
“We didn’t sit around in committees and decide what should we do. We didn’t send it to a group for study. The entire church just jumped into action,” says Murley.
With the support of their sister churches in the Greater Edmonton area, Edmonton South worked tirelessly to meet the needs of their neighbors from Fort McMurray. Members of the church volunteered their time and efforts to ensuring that each need was efficiently met.
Murley credits social media as one of the reasons they were able to provide for the evacuees in an effective manner. Members of the church and the community circulated posts on Facebook about what items and goods were needed. Without hesitation, individuals showed up to the doors of Edmonton South with requested items, such as non-perishable foods, toiletries, and clothes. They were ready to serve anyone in need.
The Conference Response
|Donated items are organized in the new warehouse operated by ADRA Canada.
Photo supplied by Kryzia Abacan
The Alberta Conference sent out an email to the churches in Edmonton, asking them to relay how they were responding as a church and how the conference could support their efforts. On May 4, the day after the evacuation, Murley promptly contacted Pastor Lyle Notice at the Alberta Conference to report what his church was planning to execute.
“The conference has a role in these kinds of situations. Definitely,” affirms Notice, the associate youth director for the conference. “But at the local level, the churches have an even greater role. They’re in the community: they know people; they have connections. They can figure out what the community needs and aim to meet those needs.”
The conference quickly offered their support to Edmonton South’s efforts. On May 5, the conference stocked their ADRA Canada and ACS disaster response vehicle with multiple cases of water donated by the conference, as well as 2,000 care kits donated by GlobalMedic, and various items collected by Edmonton South. Fully stocked, the vehicle made its way to the Edmonton Expo evacuation center at Northlands, unloading the collected goods for evacuees staying at the center.
“I really think this is where Christ would be,” says Notice. “He would be with the people who need help, who need assistance. This is a great opportunity for our church to serve, to do what we were called to do, to do what we’re supposed to be doing.”
Sitting on the Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) Council as a representative of ADRA Canada, Notice was aware of the evolving needs of the city and the province in helping the residents of Fort McMurray. As the Alberta Conference assessed the next steps in their response to the Fort McMurray wildfire, they tapped into the expertise of the Adventist Development and Relief Agency in Canada (ADRA Canada) and Adventist Community Services (ACS).
The ADRA Canada and ACS Response
When the fire erupted in Fort McMurray, Heather Grbic, charitable worker for ADRA Canada, was in the province on different business. As the crisis intensified, she collaborated with the Alberta Conference and her team at ADRA Canada in Ontario. Grbic coordinated the GlobalMedic donation and alerted her colleagues at the ADRA Canada head office about the situation. On behalf of ADRA Canada, she provided support and encouragement to the churches and to the conference.
As Notice realized the growing needs of the evacuees, as well as the needs of the city and the province, he called on the expertise of Anita Odondi, emergency management director. Odondi is responsible for ensuring that ADRA Canada formulates a quick and appropriate response to any disaster around the world, including Canada.
“Canada is our first priority,” explains Odondi. “If there is ever a disaster here, ADRA Canada will immediately respond to the needs of those affected. That is why we are here. We want to do the best we can to help.”
|The exterior of the 17,000 square-foot warehouse ADRA Canada will manage for Fort McMurray donations
Photo by Kryzia Abacan
Connecting with other organizations in the province, the need for donations management became paramount. There were thousands of donations pouring in from the city, the province, the country, and the world. As donations increased in numbers, the needs of the evacuees began to grow as well. There had to be a process in place to efficiently collect and distribute incoming donations.
Coordinating with other entities in the province, ADRA Canada accepted the responsibility of donations management with plans to open and manage a donations warehouse. Acknowledging that opening a 17,000 square-foot warehouse was not an easy feat, the Alberta Conference and ADRA Canada coordinated with Adventist Community Services (ACS), tapping into their expertise in the management of donations.
“ACS in the United States specializes in donations management,” explains Charlene Sargent, assistant director in the North American Division (NAD) of ACS Disaster Response. “That includes collecting donations, distributing them, and managing the warehouse.”
As of June 1, 2016, the Alberta Wildfire Donations Center, operated by ADRA Canada, began operations. Donations from all over the city have been transported, ready to be sorted and distributed. As residents of Fort McMurray begin the return to rebuild and repair their homes, the warehouse hopes to assist them by allocating donations to pre-approved distribution centers based on identified needs.
As of June 6, the warehouse has received more than 2,000 pallets of items and goods to be distributed to the citizens of Fort McMurray. They are in constant need of volunteers to assist in sorting and packaging the donations to be ready for shipping. They are willing to accept the assistance of anyone who wants to help the community. Members of the Adventist churches in Edmonton have been quick to lend a hand to the warehouse, continuing the spirit of service that began at the Edmonton South church.
According to a June 15 The Global and Mail report, the Alberta province will continue to partner with ADRA Canada in donation coordination. Items still being accepted include gently-used furniture, food, bedding, baby food, bottles and formula. The report also states that there has been an outpouring of donations since the May fire that ultimately destroyed one-tenth of the city. Danielle Larivee, municipal affairs minister, says that if Fort McMurray receives more donations than needed, items will be redirected to other charities. ADRA Canada will also accept financial donations.
“The Adventist church has been called to serve,” observes Sargent. “In disasters like this, we must respond with love and compassion. We have been commissioned to love our neighbors and providing support in their time of need is one way to do just that.”
— Kryzia Abacan is the communications and office manager of the Alberta Wildfire Donation Center operated by ADRA Canada.