Area residents and those driving through Ponoka on Highway 2A near the Tim Hortons made it known they wanted to help support the residents of Fort McMurray who were forced to evacuate the city last week as fire raged and eventually destroyed a significant chunk of the community.
Members of the Ponoka Fire Department in conjunction with Ponoka RCMP and Ponoka Victim Services held a boot drive for donations in support of the relief efforts on Thursday, May 5 for those displaced by the fire and ended up spending three hours on the road taking donations.
The time was well spent with more than $18,300 collected, which brought the total raised for the relief effort to just over $20,200, with the addition of the amount collected in an account set up at Servus Credit Union.
The initiative began through a discussion by members of the Ponoka Tri-Services agency following the success that was had last fall with a charity checkstop. Although, no one was quite prepared for how well received the boot drive would end up being.
“We were absolutely surprised,” said Miranda Pinksen, executive director of Ponoka Victim Services in an interview on Monday, May 9.
“It demonstrates what a giving attitude. This is a phenomenal amount for the size of community Ponoka is.”
Pinksen explained many of the people that drove through didn’t know about the fundraiser, but wanted to do something to help those in need from Fort McMurray.
“They dug in and gave whatever they could,” she stated. “However, there were people that saw what we put out on Facebook and came prepared specifically to donate.”
She did add that as the tragedy was still unfolding and plenty of unknowns remained, people’s emotions came to the forefront when it came to donating.
In addition to the cash, many people provided donations of water, diapers and other items that were taken up to Edmonton on Friday in a couple of truckloads.
“In the short term, most of the people going through this are still in a state of shock and are in need of support as some are going to have to start over – maybe in Fort McMurray and maybe in a new place,” Pinksen stated.
“This is a life changing traumatic event with a number of questions that are left unanswered, which effects people emotionally, physically and psychologically. You will start to see more and more of a need for mental health services as people begin the process of having to move forward with their lives.
“For those that need to make a permanent change, as not everyone will be able to go back due to financial and other reasons, there are going to be costs and various supports necessary in their new community including that seed funding they need to restart their lives be it a damage deposit, new licence and so on.”
For anyone that believes they need help in dealing with the event, Pinksen said you should access the available resources by calling either the Mental Health Help Line at 1-877-303-2642 or Health Link Alberta at 811.
That’s also why donating is so important, as many of those longer term costs still aren’t known added Pinksen.
Meanwhile, Ponoka has also been doing other things to help out.
There have been several offers through social media of people willing to take donated items and transport them to where they are needed along with some Fort McMurray residents being housed in the community and getting some assistance with personal items as well as food and clothing.
That being said, the need for donated items is beginning to overwhelm some agencies and evacuation centres so Pinksen said there are a few things people wanting to support the effort to remember.
The best ways people can help are by providing donations to the Ponoka Food Bank and to Old MacDonald Kennels or by giving to the Ponoka Fire Department Relief Aid Fund account at Servus Credit Union.
“(Victim Services) will access the food bank for emergency food and as Old MacDonald are providing a week for free for evacuee pets – with some already there – they need supplies including food, carriers, beds, grooming items, etc,” Pinksen said.
“As well, we want those evacuees who we know are here that they can access these and any other services they may need through us. We have the ability to reach out to all the community organizations including the Red Cross and the community as a whole to get the assistance required.”
Ponoka Victim Services can be contacted at 403-783-6539 or 403-848-4559.