Above: Members of the Morinville Dark Side Free Speech Society gather with some of the donations received from the group and members of the community Wednesday night. – Stephen Dafoe Photo
by Stephen Dafoe
Residents throughout Morinville pitched in Wednesday to assist those evacuated from Fort McMurray by donating to the Red Cross and to some local initiatives, including those conducted by Curves, Sobeys and planned by Bumper to Bumper / Home Hardware for this weekend.
One social media group decided to take advantage of one of their members 100 Avenue location to gather some immediate necessities for those making their way to safety along the province’s roadways.
“I was born and raised in Fort McMurray, grew up there, spent all my years until I was about 16 or 17 up there,” said Matt Baty, one of the group’s members. “Now to watch it burn down, I’m gutted. There are people up there that are stranded and looking for help, so we as a group – The Morinville Dark Side Free Speech Society Fu**ers, we’ve decided we’re going to do what we can to help out. With my house being right on the main street, we decided it was a prime location to ask people for donations.”
More than 100 donations of food, cash and supplies were received in just a few hours May 4, items that will be taken to assist those on the journey on the road.
“This is going to people that are stuck on the highway,” Baty said.
As donations were being dropped off by members of the social media group as well as passersby, one displaced Fort McMurray resident stopped to ask where he could buy a kitty litter box.
Kelvin Campbell is staying in Morinville with his uncle and said he doesn’t know if his home was destroyed or not.
“You should see [highway] 63; it’s unreal,” Campbell said, adding the highway was wall-to-wall in cars. “Heading to Wandering River, they’re clogged right up. You can’t get in. They got no fuel. They’ve got nothing.”
Campbell lived in Timberlea, among the last to be evacuated, and said it took him six hours to drive to Morinville.
“It was coming right around, and we could see the flames crackling and everything,” Campbell said, showing some images of the fire drawing near to his home, and wondering if it was still there or not.
Matt Baty offers Fort McMurray evacuee Kelvin Campbell a cardboard box to serve as a kitty litter box until he could find a spot to buy one.
Tim Quinn of Quinns Plumbing and Heating drops off his donation.
But as thousands have headed south to seek shelter in the Capital Region, three Morinville firefighters are joining a contingent from Sturgeon County to head north to assist.
Morinville Fire Chief Brad Boddez said he received an email from Sturgeon County Fire Chief, Pat Mahoney Wednesday afternoon asking for help. “The Provincial Operations Centre requested some support, and so Sturgeon County wanted to put together a group of eight,” boddez said. “We supplied three this afternoon. Within 90 minutes they had their bags packed, sleeping bags and personal gear. They’re shooting for a three- to five-day support unit there. It’ll depend on the conditions whether or not we have to send relief crews. We’re praying for some moisture for them.”
Boddez said he received an overwhelming response from his crew. “It’s short notice. It’s Wednesday. It’s the middle of the week. In that first 15 minutes I had over 15 guys reply,” Boddez said.
The chief was quick to point out that while his crew is ready and willing to assist, Morinville remains the priority.
“With the overwhelming commitment from the guys to go help out, everyone is still very aware that our number one priority is the Town of Morinville citizens and the residents of Sturgeon County that we protect.”
Businesses pitch in
Throughout Morinville businesses donated to the cause and offered a cut of their business for those in need.
Morinville & District Chamber of Commerce President Simon Boersma spoke of the business community’s ability to rally behind supporting those affected and said something would be set up with the Chamber and local banks.
Businesses large and small took to social media to announce what they were planning. Curves Morinville was one of the first, asking those able to help to drop off water, toiletries, over the counter medicines, diapers, pet food, and other items. Champion Petfoods opened their Edmonton office during business hours Wednesday and Thursday to offer free pet food to evacuees. Bumper to Bumper / Home Hardware announced Wednesday that 10 per cent of all sales on May 7 would be donated to the Red Cross initiative. Proshine Cleaners, a home based auto detailing offered to detail cars for $100 and donate the entire amount to assist those in need.
Donations to the Red Cross relief efforts are ongoing. Those wishing to make a donation can do so at https://donate.redcross.ca/ea-action/action?&ea.client.id=1951&ea.campaign.id=50639.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to Mtt Baty as the group’s founder.