Within hours of the fire entering Fort McMurray, Albertans were mobilizing to garner funds, goods and resources for those that were affected. While the level of support confirms the resiliency of our province in trying times — right now most of the community’s needs are still unknown.
The YWCA of Calgary was deeply impacted by flooding in 2013. When we look back on those weeks, it goes without saying that in the midst of the crisis the generosity and support of our community was monumental to our recovery.
However, at the risk of sounding ungrateful, well intentioned, gifts-in-kind do not always meet the real needs of people in need. Cash is always king, with gift cards second and then specific, new-only gift-in-kind items beyond that (based on specific asks from organizations). We know that choice and dignity are important considerations — an individual should be given the opportunity to choose her own pillow and her own underwear.
As of early this week, the Fort McMurray response plan started moving into the stabilization phase; city limits are still closed off to non-emergent personnel, but a re-entry team has started assessing the damage.
The city is only now beginning to evaluate the needs of patrons and businesses alike. This is why organizations like the Red Cross, in cooperation with government, are powerful tools in times of disaster.
From our experiences in the flood and beyond we can attest that gift-in-kind donations are challenging to manage. They may not be the right things at the right sizes and non-profits expend considerable resources receiving, sorting and storing such gifts.
As individuals, our role is to support if we can through monetary donations via Red Cross and to Fort McMurray organizations directly. As an organization, the YWCA is connected with a Fort McMurray-based organization called Waypoints, which operates a women’s shelter called Unity House. If and when they can resume operations, they, and countless other initiatives, will also need our support.
Canadians have already given the Red Cross more than $30 million and the Canadian government has agreed to match those donations. We have a long way to go — but the good will and financial aid put forth by compassionate Canadians everywhere will surely set the groundwork for recovery.