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Local groups quick to help Fort Mac

Devastating wildfires in Fort McMurray have prompted support from agencies across the country, with local groups pitching in.

Lions Club International jumped on board right away.

“Right now we have a tremendous fundraiser going on for the fire in Fort McMurray,” said Art Woods of the Elmira Lions Club. “Everybody’s helping across Canada, it’s wonderful. Lions are right there for sure leading the way. In our international foundation we have a grant of $15,000 per club within 12 hours of when the tragedy occurs. We get some money right out there to help the people with boots on the ground. So obviously that’s happened already and we’re raising money.”

The Elmira Lions Club is in the process of developing their plan to help. They were going to decide on the donation at Wednesday night’s meeting. Their counterparts at the Woolwich Community Lions Club approved a donation on Monday.

“Our experience is when there is a disaster like an earthquake or a tornado or a fire, there’s a need right away and governments take days, weeks, or months to get on board and then even for us here locally as Lions it takes awhile to get it approved. I’m pretty proud of the fact that our international organization provides some money immediately within the first day,” Woods said.

Some 2,400 buildings were lost to the fire, and 90,000 residents aren’t expected to be able to return home for weeks. The fire had grown to 229,000 hectares on Tuesday, but was moving away from Fort McMurray.

A fire of this size is where Mennonite Disaster Service – Mennonite Central Committee’s sister organization – comes into play.

“When there’s international work that needs to be done in terms of disaster relief, that goes to MCC. And then North America, we partner directly with MDS. MCC is encouraging people to donate to MDS directly. There’s a donation link that’s live on our main website or people can call MDS directly,” said Josh Hissa, communications for MCC Ontario.

They’re not accepting donations of clothing and house wares. Instead, MDS is asking for financial support so they can respond quickly when the area is open to the response team.

“Right now they’re working in collaboration with the Red Cross and with municipalities that have been impacted so once the area’s opened up past just first responders, they’ll work very closely with those other groups to find out the best way they can be supportive,” Hissa said.

MDS is part of the cleanup portion of disaster relief, but they’re also involved in long-term rebuilding. When floods hit High River, Alberta in 2013, MDS stayed for two years, just wrapping up in September of last year.

“They’re there for the long term, and that’ll be the case here in Fort McMurray as well,” Hissa said.

He notes Ontarians have responded strongly, the same way they did with the Syrian refugee crisis and the earthquakes in Nepal, with people coming into the office to donate, calling, and making online contributions.

The Royal Canadian Legion has also issued a call to action to all of its Legion members across Canada, encouraging them to donate to relief efforts.

“Legionnaires answered the call and gave generously to relief efforts during the floods in Badger, NL in 2003 and again during the floods in Calgary in 2013,” said Dominion president of the Royal Canadian Legion, Tom Eagles. “I am confident that our nearly 300,000 members will be as generous as possible in keeping with our service to Canada and its communities.”

Friday, May 13, 2016 has been designated “Friends of Fort McMurray Day” in Waterloo Region’s Catholic schools and WCDSB administrative sites. All WCDSB staff and students are encouraged to bring a loonie to school on Friday to assist the people of Fort McMurray and area in rebuilding their lives.

From May 10 to June 15 students, staff, parents and community members who wish to donate to the Fort McMurray Disaster Relief effort may do so by visiting the Waterloo Region Education Foundation Inc website, www.wrdsb.ca/wefi, or through individual school-run fundraising campaigns that will be starting soon.

Both school boards will be giving donated dollars to the Canadian Red Cross.

The Canadian Red Cross had received more than $54 million from people across the country as of Monday to support those affected by the wildfire. It’s likely helped in part by the fact the federal government announced last week they’ll match all dollars donated to the Red Cross to help those displaced. Alberta is also matching Red Cross donations up to $2 million.

Donations in support of the Fort McMurray disaster can be made to the Canadian Red Cross at any TD Bank to account #80689-004-5237800/Alberta-NWT Command.

Or to support the residents of Fort McMurray through MDS, call 1-866-261-1274 or visit www.mds.mennonite.net.

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won't find anywhere else. Stay caught up with The Observer This Week.

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