The Fresh Start Recovery Centre’s gymnasium was bustling with volunteers last Thursday. As the sun beat down outside, it was easy to forget that a flood ravaged the streets of Calgary and devastated the towns surrounding it.
But no one has forgotten. Not here, anyway.
July 18 was a Day of Caring for over 150 PwC volunteers. Armed with $5,000 worth of supplies, they cut ribbon, stuck stickers, folded blankets, wrote caring notes, and packed fun passes for over 500 families in High River and Bowness, areas that have been heavily affected by last month’s flood.
These bundles of goodies, aptly named “Hope Hampers,” are a different take on the “necessities” families need to get through the destruction of the flood. The hampers are meant to give families a distraction from the daily devastation: A day at Heritage Park, an afternoon photo shoot for a family portrait or a picnic with a clean, silt-free blanket.
The volunteers gathered at 9 a.m. and were elbow-deep in glitter and construction paper by 9:05 a.m. After less than two hours, 500 hampers were folded and wrapped into neat packages, ready to be delivered.
At noon, 30 employees grabbed a bagged lunch and sandwiched into an overheated yellow school bus with Hope Hampers taking up most of the narrow seats. They were headed to High River to deliver hope and glee to residents burdened by homelessness and wreckage.
Many of the volunteers hadn’t seen thedevastation in High River outside the evening news. Eyes widened as volunteers witnessed men in white hazmat suits walking out of silt-covered homes with piles of rotting furniture, wood and drywall littering what once were manicured front lawns.
The first stop was Rowan House Emergency Shelter, a shelter that provides crisis intervention, long-term support and education for those affected by family violence in rural communities like High River. PwC volunteers quickly formed an assembly line, dropping off and stacking 80 hampers into the only dry space they had left: the garage, which also housed other donated goods like generic toilet paper and Ikea pillows.
Sherrie Botton, executive director of the emergency shelter, met volunteers with a big smile and outreached arms. Rowan House had to be evacuated during the flood, displacing all of their clients, children and employees. Their basement, all 3,000 square feet of counselling and childcare space, was lost.
The next stop was the residence of Tania, which doubled as a day home — at least it did before the flood. The most eye-catching part of her home wasn’t the damage, but the neon signs taped to her second-story windows that read, “High River Strong,” and “We [Love] High River.” From the outside, the house looked rather untouched, but, as we learned later, the damage was deep below the surface.
Last month, with 13 kids and three moms in tow, Tania was airlifted out of High River while wave after wave of floodwater threatened to drown her neighbourhood. Currently, she and her church are taking care of 75 children while their parents are busily gutting and pumping out homes.
As she told her story to PwC volunteers, she clutched her two small children to her side protectively while tears streamed down her face.
“This is why I contacted you,” she explained, “So we can give these kids a summer.”
The now solemn volunteers contemplated her words as they unpacked another six dozen hampers through her front door.
Though routines are getting back to normal in Calgary’s downtown core, it’s important to remember that the after-effects of the flood are still raging in parts of the city and its surrounding areas. United Way would like to thank PwC, Neighbourlink, and Fresh Start for stepping up and delivering hope to those who need it most. This is what United Way’s Day of Caring is all about.