A volunteer helps out at the United Way supply centre in Cache Creek last week. Barbara Roden

United Way launches new initiative to help wildfire victims

‘United for BC Wildfire Recovery’ will help those affected by the fires in the Central Interior.

The United Way has launched an initiative called “United for BC Wildfire Recovery”, a new national initiative preparing for the recovery and rebuilding of communities across the province.

As part of the new initiative, a task force from United Way Thompson Nicola Cariboo was in Cache Creek last week to organize a supply centre where food, water, clothing, cleaning supplies, and more was available to returning residents.

Volunteers from United Way, BC Lottery Corporation, and Interior Community Services were on hand to help distribute the supplies, load people’s cars, and give out information about services, such as the Red Cross centre that had been set up at the Community Hall and which was distributing cleaning kits to those who had returned earlier in the week.

The supply centre closed on July 21, with the remaining supplies being donated to The Equality Project in Cache Creek.

A United Way volunteer said that approximately 200 people, from children to seniors, had come to the supply centre between July 19 and 21. “It’s been an awesome response,” she said. “Everyone has been so nice and appreciative, and everyone had lots of stories.” She added that volunteers were out in the community cleaning fire retardant off houses and helping people in need.

“We’re putting the focus on people as they’re coming back into their communities, so they feel supported,” says Kristi Rintoul, senior manager of community impact for United Way Thompson Nicola Cariboo.

“We’re not only giving out staples; we’re linked with others to provide social workers and counsellors, and help people with interior and exterior clean-up.”

She adds that there are lots of different pieces, and they are holding meetings in Kamloops with different agencies, such as the Red Cross, social services agencies, municipalities, and the Thompson-Nicola Regional District to make re-entry as smooth as possible. “We want it to be collaborative.

“It will be a long-term task,” she continues. “We will still be funding local programs like Better at Home, which is funded by United Way. We’ll try to reach as many people as possible.”

One of the ways in which the United Way reached out was by holding community barbecues in Cache Creek on July 24 and in Ashcroft on July 25, allowing residents to get together and thank the volunteers who did so much.

Rintoul gives a huge thank you to the community of Cache Creek. “It’s an amazing place with amazing people. Fire chief Tom Moe was amazing, and so was chief administrative officer Keir Gervais. There were some members of the community who just wanted to come and chat. People have been through so much, but they were so grateful, so happy and smiling.”

Rintoul encourages people to go to bc211.ca, United Way’s information and referral initiative. It has recently been expanded to cover the entire province with live web-chat and enhanced, centralized wildfire information to augment current communication channels to support the immediate needs of those in crisis.

“People enter their postal code, and all the services being offered in the area will be there,” says Rintoul. She adds that anyone with questions can email office@unitedwaytnc.ca or call (250) 372-9933.

“Recovery from a crisis like the B.C. wildfires will be a long process spanning months to several years,” notes Danalee Baker, executive director of United Way Thompson Nicola Cariboo. “Recovery and rebuilding will look different for each community as well as each individual and family. It might be as simple as cleaning out a fridge, or as intensive as re-building a home from scratch or dealing with depression as a result of trauma.”

“United for BC Wildfire Recovery” will also be raising funds for important social needs such as finding permanent housing, food assistance, trauma and mental health supports, and rebuilding social infrastructure to meet community needs once the fires die down and residents have returned home. People can support the initiative by going to www.unitedforbcwildfires.ca and either making a donation or signing up to volunteer for recovery efforts.