ADAM JACKSON/Ponoka News
On May 18, hundreds upon hundreds of boxes of donations poured into the Ponoka Farmers’ Market, filling a large part of the curling rink at the Ponoka Culture and Recreation Centre.
The boxes were full of donations to victims of the fires in Slave Lake and the surrounding communities.
On May 20, there were 59 fires reported, 14 of which deemed out of control. That number has dropped dramatically from May 16, with 115 fires and 36 burning out of control.
It is estimated that 360 residences were destroyed in the fire.
“We just wanted to do something to help,” said Donna Merrill, the Ponoka Farmers’ Market organizer.
She and her son, Ken, took the initiative of organizing a donation drop-off spot at the market, but they were not expecting to have the rink fill up as fast as it did.
While donations poured in from residents of Ponoka and surrounding communities, several drop-off locations in Red Deer filled to capacity. After being asked if they would accept donations from the Red Deer office, the two quickly agreed.
The flood of donations made for a busy Wednesday afternoon for the Merrills and other volunteers at the market, while truck after truck pulled up to the bay doors at the curling rink.
The market donation is not the only time residents of Ponoka will be able to help. There will be a trailer donated by Don Laing Trailers in front of Soy Bean Essentials collecting donations on May 25, 26 and 27 as well.
Material donations are not the only way that residents of Ponoka can help. Servus Credit Union has set up cash donations at branches across the province.
“Anybody can come into our branches and make a donation to the Red Cross,” said Servus spokesperson Mike Dickinson. “We’ll make sure it gets to them.”
Employees of Servus have also been pitching in with fundraising barbecues. Servus will match any donations that its employees bring in.
For its customers affected by the fires, Servus will make an effort to help them by allowing mortgage payment deferrals and extending overdrafts.
“We’re looking to give them a little more breathing space,” said Dickinson.
The donations were picked up and trucked from the rink on May 21 by a group of volunteers from Jo Dumont Fitness Training. The pickup produced volunteers from Ponoka and across central Alberta who made their way up to Athabasca, where a number of displaced Slave Lake residents are staying, with the convoy of semi-trailers.
Ponoka Mayor Larry Henkelman and Olds Mayor Judy Dahl addressed the crowd of volunteers before they started their journey north. Henkelman was particularly proud of the way central Alberta has banded together to help the people of Slave Lake during such a time of crisis.
“It is devastating for the community of Slave Lake,” said Mayor Henkelman. “But central Alberta always comes through when there is a tragedy like this and we are always there to help support the people that have suffered from the consequences. It doesn’t surprise me that central Alberta would do something like this and come up with the number of semis that are moving out to help the residents of Slave Lake.”