Disaster! What should we do?


photo credit: Edmonton Journal


The images coming out of Fort McMurray, Alberta over the past few days have been terrifying. A city on fire and its entire population of 80 000 people evacuated!


photo credit: CBC



photo credit: CBC


We appreciate the messages of concern received this week from friends around the world who heard the word “Alberta” on the news and immediately thought of us! Fort McMurray is about 500 km north of us. Though the entire province is experiencing an unusually hot, dry spring and the risk of fire is high everywhere, we are safe!

It has been gratifying to see the outpouring of support from people across Alberta and beyond our borders for the residents of Fort McMurray. As Missions president for our church, I have been fielding questions about how we as a congregation can help. Here is Church of the Nazarene Canada West District Superintendent, Dr. Larry Dahl’s, response to similar questions:

We have had a number of inquiries regarding how people can provide support and help for the disaster in Fort McMurray.

We are suggesting to those who are interested in making a donation to send funds directly to Samaritan’s Purse, who are presently working on organizing a response. They were quite actively involved in helping with the Slave Lake fire and then with the High River flood crisis in the past.

Additionally, if they wish, they could send funds to the Salvation Army, designated to help with the relief for the area. I received the following information from Major Ron Cartmell, Divisional Commander:

“The Salvation Army has been mobilized to feed 1,000 first responders south of Fort McMurray. Our portable kitchen is in place, and as I write, three other teams from Alberta and Saskatchewan are en route to help.”

I concur with Dr. Dahl and would add that the Red Cross is another organization that you might consider sending a donation to. The Canadian Government has agreed to match all donations made to the Red Cross Alberta Fires Emergency Appeal.

Cash donations, even small ones, are by far the most effective way to help those recovering from any disaster of this nature, but what should a person not do?

No one wants to see the collective community’s goodwill offerings end up in the landfill, but sadly, in situations like this one, when people start filling trucks and trailers with used goods and hauling them into the affected area, that’s often exactly what ends up happening. It happened following the 2011 Slave Lake fire, it happened following the High River flood in 2013, and unfortunately, it will happen this time too.

Compassion tells us that we need to help these people get back on their feet by replacing the things they’ve lost, so we start collecting food, clothing and household items without thinking about the fact that someone has to sort, warehouse and distribute what we collect. Also, people may not realize that for heath and safety reasons a lot of what is collected can’t be distributed at all. If you do want to donate material goods during the first few weeks following this or any other crisis, the wise thing to do is to find out what specific needs have been identified by the emergency shelters and meet those needs which usually include things like disposable diapers, baby formula and toiletry items.

Many of the larger needs will come later. For example, during a wildfire, electricity to the community is lost. That means that by the time the Fort McMurray evacuees return home, if they have a home to return to, every single fridge and freezer in that city will be full of rotting food and will probably need to be replaced. We’re talking thousands of appliances. This is not a need that can be met by shipping individual donated items. It will require negotiations with manufacturers, huge buying power and major logistical coordination. Organizations like the Red Cross, in cooperation with government, are equipped to handle this kind of need, but they can only do that if they receive adequate monetary donations.

So give wisely. Instead of sending material goods, give a cash donation to Samaritan’s Purse, the Salvation Army, or the Red Cross. If you have clothing, furniture or other possessions to get rid of, hold a garage sale and donate the proceeds. Disaster victims don’t need your discards!



7 thoughts on “Disaster! What should we do?

  1. I have been following news of the fire and have been reminded of some recent horrific blazes we’ve had in Southern California. We were fortunate not to have been in any danger, but received a lot of worried calls from friends and family who weren’t familiar with our location. The images you shared make the tragedy even more real; my heart breaks for those whose lives have been overturned. Thank you for great information about how we can best help them.

  2. I originally wrote this to use as my Missions Moment in church this morning, but then I decided to edit it a bit and share it with a wider audience.

  3. Thanks for posting this. We sometimes need to be told that some “aid” is actually a hindrance – it may appease our desire to do good but can actually make it harder on the people at the receiving end. Well done.

  4. I was curious how all the funds that the Red Cross received would be used. I was happy to read that they will help with purchases to replace appliances etc. I wonder how this is logistically coordinated with those who would have insurance coverage? People have donated funds to help Fort Mac residents, I wonder if all those funds do indeed go directly to those residents? Is there a link for information about questions like this Elaine?

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