July 8, 2011: A day after William and Kate visited Slave Lake, Alberta, and seven and a half weeks after a devastating fire destroyed 400 homes of the 7000 people town, Robert and I volunteered a day there to help sort used clothing.
A disaster of the magnitude of the Slave Lake wildfire (rated the second most expensive insured disaster in Canada after the 1998 ice storm in Quebec) carries many consequences we don’t often think about.
One is a mountain of used clothing. On May 16th, when Slave Lake’s residents were all ordered to immediately evacuate their homes, most left with little more than the shirts on their backs. Those whose homes were destroyed literally lost everything. A call for donations to help the fire victims was met with an overwhelming response. Truly overwhelming.
An article in the Westlock News (June 27th edition) said that there was enough clothing donated for a population of 40,000-50,000. That’s far more clothes than Slave Lake will ever need – or be able to process on their own. So they called for help. Groups have been coming in from communities all over Alberta to spend a day sorting clothes.
Donations are stored in a vacant building of the Tolko OSB Plant outside Slave Lake. At the end of the day we’d made a small dent in the mountain. One girl reported seeing another eight semi trailers behind the building waiting to be unloaded.
What are they going to do with all these clothes? Andrea Hardy is a coordinator for FCSS (Family and Community Support Services) in Slave Lake. Some will continue to go to the distribution centre in Slave Lake, she told us. The rest will be designated for other disaster areas or to charities working with third world countries such as Africa.
One of the FCSS staff in Westlock, Stephanie Schultz, who also came with us, says that there is another smaller mountain of donations waiting in Westlock to be sorted. It seems a bit paradox – people are trying to help, and creating a new problem.
Maybe, next time there is a call for donations, especially for used clothing, it would be wise to contact the intake centre and make sure they still need help. Real help could sometimes be not helping (or not in that way)! And make sure the clothing you donate is clean and such as you would still wear.
Slave Lake still does need help – but mostly in volunteer work (to sort clothes for example) or in monetary donations to purchase items such as mattresses which they are not allowed to accept second hand (Canada health regulations). Andrea Hardy would love to hear from you – contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .