There are about 30 evacuee families who are making Stettler their temporary home as of today as provincial officials still struggle to map out the extent of devastation in the Fort McMurray area caused by the raging wildfires.
“My husband and I are just two of the many people now making our home in Stettler as we are now officially evacuees from Fort McMurray and have been welcomed with open arms and this little town has shown the most extreme hospitality,” said Wanda Allan.
So far, the Allans have received gift cards, membership to gyms, Stettler dollars, free shoes from the Shoe Closet and Boutique, free meals at Brenda’s Cozy Cafe, Boston Pizza, KFC and Hackers, and as Allan puts it, “the list goes on and on”.
“Next weekend we are looking so forward to a steam train ride from Alberta Prairie Steam Tour,” added Allan. “Tuesday, May 3, 2016 will forever be the day that 88,000 people realized what’s important in their lives – family, friends, and pets.”
According to Allan, that morning they, like others, started their day normally.
“At 1.30 p.m. my neighbourhood of Wood Buffalo was put on a volunteer evacuation and by 3 p.m. we were placed under mandatory evacuation,” recounted Allan. “With 30 minutes to pack a lifetime of memories, we had to act quickly, before being trapped in traffic on our street for the next two hours.”
This is just one of the many stories that resonate in town as told by the Fort Mac evacuees.
“Fire is coming,” said five-year old Lucas Peters as he sat on his grandaunt’s lap eating a cookie. “Everything was orange, the skies, the sun and there was smoke.”
Seen from a child’s perspective, that was very much what Fort McMurray looked like as residents and people were asked to evacuate.
His grandaunt Audrey Rogers who has been working with the Fort McMurray municipality for the past few years sat in shock.
Both Rogers’ house and her mother Rosalind Rogers’ house were razed to the ground, it is where they had made their home for more than two decades.
Welcoming all evacuees on behalf of the council and the residents of Stettler, the Mayor Dick Richard said, “We would like to give a great big Heart of Alberta welcome to our new friends from Fort McMurray.” He added that regardless of what has brought them to our community, he was thrilled that they landed here, and although Fort McMurray may be a city, its citizen’s roots are very rural, so he was sure that “our new friends” will feel at home here.
Stettler community comes together
But as the harrowing stories of escape and nightmare were being written and recounted all across the country, in the early hours of Wednesday, May 4 a group of concerned individuals from Stettler got together at the conference room of Canalta Hotel to see what they could do for the community, among them were Cody Borek, Terry Best, Mayor Dick Richards, Q93.3 manager Vicki Leuck and other local business owners and caring citizens.
Donation boxes were set up soon after at local businesses in town and groups started organizing themselves to lead community efforts.
“I am excited to be able to help and have worked closely with Mayor Richards and a number of local business people to create a welcome package for the folks from Fort Mac,” said OVERSET FOLLOWS:Tim Berry, one of the many involved with the evacuation aid from the beginning, leading accommodation needs.
Fundraising efforts and donations
The community’s fundraising efforts started with a barbecue fundraiser hosted at Aspen Ford on Thursday afternoon, May 5, with summer program coordinator Celeste Reid at Heartland Youth Centre spearheading a bottle drive on Friday, May 6.
Later on Saturday, May 7 a trailer was driven to Boyle by Stettler residents Tammy Ripley, Cory Marshall and Miranda Coenen, who said, “As I spoke to my friends in this community, the thought came through my head that I should do something to help, something that everyone has been thinking am sure.”
There was another 24-feet stock trailer parked at in West Stettler that is filling up quickly with non-perishable items, clothes, water, baby items, toiletries and other essentials.
On Saturday afternoon the Stettler U16 girls’ softball team, in conjunction with CJ Oilfield Construction Ltd. had a barbecue fundraiser at the No Frills parking lot and collected items for another trailer to be taken out of Stettler and a total of $2,624 was raised with all proceeds to be donated to the Edmonton Emergency Relief Services.
The Erskine School’s Grade 9 students raised over $720 from their hot lunches to give to the Red Cross so that the donations could be matched by the province and the federal government, bringing it over $2,100.
“We wanted to take this route particularly to raise more funds,” said principal Deb Spiller. “Our Grade 9 students have worked hard to raise these funds from the hot lunches.”
On Monday, May 9 Cody Borek collected funds from nine of the donation boxes in town with a total of $510.75 in cash and $100 in cheque.
Stettler Sobey’s matched that donation with $510.75, and with the provincial and federal matching up that amount the grand total so far has been $3,364.50 with more boxes to be collected.
“I’m doing as much as I can as an able-bodied person and with one of the larger social reach, I am able to connect with more people,” said Cody Borek.
The Kinder Kids at Christ King School organized a lemonade and cookie sale for $1 on Tuesday morning, May 10 with proceeds going to Red Cross and Fort McMurray residents.
The William E. Hay Stettler Secondary Campus will be hosting a fundraiser with barbecue and car wash by donation in the high school parking lot on Friday, May 13 at 3 p.m.
Stettler businesses and restaurants have organized free meals, supplies and services for all Fort McMurray evacuees, and Jewel Theatre will be hosting a movie on Saturday, May 14, funds from which will go to the families living in Stettler.
For all support services and information, please go to the social media pages set up as Information and Resources for Fort McMurray Evacuees in Stettler and Stettler Aid Resource List for Fort McMurray Evacuees.
Stettler RCMP to assist Wood Buffalo RCMP
The Stettler Town and County is down to two constables for the near future as constables Matthew Fifield and Jason Emmons were sent north to Fort McMurray to assist the Wood Buffalo RCMP with the wildfire crisis affecting the county.