A fire that displaced over 80 residents in Campbell River on Wednesday also ignited a spark of community support for the people affected.
Campbell River Emergency Support Services has placed the 86 residents in the Coast Discovery Inn for seven days, and are working with partner agencies to find a more permanent solution.
“We’re going to be working hard into the weekend to brainstorm what a long-term solution could look like and what else is available for these people,” said Strathcona Regional District protective services coordinator Shaun Koopman.
Emergency Support Services is volunteer run, and the volunteers have been putting in long hours to ensure the people affected by the fire are cared for. Koopman explained that some have been putting in 12-hour days and volunteering their weekend to help out.
“They’ve probably done about 150 hours of volunteer time,” Koopman said. “Many of them were on site for 10-12 hours yesterday and have offered to assist into the weekend.”
Emergency Support Services typically provides lodging and other necessities to people affected by these kinds of emergencies. However, due to COVID-19, the province has adopted a new set of guidelines for ESS workers to ensure proper social distancing and to help prevent the spread of the virus. Some of the new protocols include things like not needing signatures from evacuees and no longer supporting group lodging.
Though the virus has made the emergency response difficult, in some ways, Koopman said, it has streamlined the process.
“An event like this during regular times would be a very difficult registration process to find commercial accommodation,” Koopman said. “For this event, the Coast Discovery Inn didn’t have many people staying there. We were able to call them up and everybody got on the buses provided and were brought right down. From that perspective, COVID-19 almost made it simpler than regular times.”
However, maintaining social distancing has been difficult for the volunteers and the people displaced. Typically, volunteers assist with both clerical work like registering the people affected with the ESS system and face time to help with mental health. Volunteers have now been working remotely these jobs.
Elsewhere in the city, a group of Campbell Riverites have been working together to collect donations of money, goods and even some Easter goodies for the families and children who have been displaced because of the fire.
Sharon Webb is one of the coordinators of a Facebook group dedicated to helping. She and the group have been working to ensure the fire evacuees are able to have fresh clothes and toiletries. The group has also started a fund with the United Way to help raise money for the families, and has been coordinating with local groups to secure free or sponsored access to a laundromat for the people affected by the fire.
“At this point, clothing and toiletries so the people can have a shower and put on fresh clothes,” she said. “Those are the big ones.”
Webb, like all of the people who have been working to help those affected, has been putting in long hours over the last few days. While ESS usually has a system in place to help people after a disaster, that system has been affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Webb said that she has had to set up a no-contact pickup system for donations, and has been washing clothes in her own personal machine to ensure they are safe.
Though a lot of thought has been directed at ensuring people have a place to stay and access to basic necessities, another concern has popped up. When she saw the fire, Webb’s daughter Kendra inquired about a certain fluffy visitor who is scheduled for this weekend.
“That was my daughter’s number one concern when she saw the fire. She asked ‘Mommy, what is going to happen with those kids and the Easter bunny,’ ” Webb said.
After a donation of $500 from Emily Goodwin, a local musician who busked for three hours to raise the funds, Webb has been able to secure some necessities and Easter goodies for the kids currently in the hotel.
“She sang on the side of 9th and Greenwood for a good three hours yesterday in the middle of the street. She was able to raise about $500,” Webb said. “With that $500, I’ve been buying brand new socks, brand new underwear, and Easter goodies for the kids, including bubbles, colouring books, a book to read, chocolates and things that kids normally get on Easter.”
A donation drop off location has been set up at the Laichwiltach Family Life Society gymnasium. People who want to donate are asked to make an appointment before coming to maintain social distancing. The centre can be reached at 250-286-3430. Financial donations can be made by clicking here. Updated information on what is needed can be found at the Support Fire Evacuees Facebook page.
“Their kindness and generosity is what makes Campbell River what it is, and why we like to call this place home.” Koopman said.
“The very best way that people can assist someone who has been displaced is to be trained on how to be an ESS volunteer, and do that beforehand,” he added. “The quality of service that we can offer thee people is entirely dependent on the quality trained volunteers that we have in the community.”
Those interested in being an ESS volunteer can contact firstname.lastname@example.org.