In the aftermath of the fire that destroyed much of the town of Lytton on June 30, a number of evacuees found themselves in Cache Creek, and an ad hoc group of volunteers — some of whom were active in helping provide relief for residents of Boston Flats after the Elephant Hill wildfire in 2017 — immediately stepped into action to help out.
Joyce Buckland and Phyllis Rainey of the Family Friends group — who were both named as Rotary Citizens of the Year in 2018 in recognition for their work with wildfire evacuees the year before — knew that there were people in the area who had been evacuated, and that they had to do something. They called the Community Resource Society, the South Cariboo E. Fry Society, the Hospital Auxiliary Thrift Store, and the Ashcroft HUB, and everyone got together for a meeting.
The big question was how to find the evacuees, and how to help. “I made up a letter and went to the hotels in Cache Creek and said ‘Please give this to evacuees who are staying here,’” says Buckland. In a number of cases she was given room numbers, and knocked on doors to talk to evacuees.
“I took gas cards and Safety Mart vouchers, as Emergency Support Services [ESS] doesn’t give out gas cards, and to get some things people have to go to Kamloops or Merritt. And they get a lump sum food voucher that has to be spent at once, so giving them $25 Safety Mart vouchers means they can get fresh fruit and vegetables, milk, etc. in between.”
The volunteers initially identified 19 families in Cache Creek who were from Lytton. Then things started to snowball, with 11 families from the YD area, five families from Skeetchestn, and seven families from Spences Bridge. “We made sure they all got something.”
Buckland adds that they have been trying to identify what evacuees, particularly those from Lytton, need.
“The first time we saw them they didn’t need anything. The second week they said they needed coolers, as some of them didn’t have a fridge. The week after that we asked them if they wanted some bins to put things in, and they said yes; many of them had their clothes in garbage bags. One family with four children didn’t have a fridge, so we got them a small one.”
She says that they are continuing to get things as people need them, and that are targeted to specific needs. “I was getting 40 messages a day from people saying ‘I have a dresser.’ We’re not repeating 2017, where we had so much stuff we had to rent a place to store it and then had to give a lot of it away.”
Volunteers go around to see the evacuees every Friday, taking gas and gift cards and seeing if anything else is needed. Buckland says that the community has been very generous, with all donations going through the Ashcroft HUB, which as a charitable organization can issue receipts.
Last week the Ashcroft and District Lions Club presented the volunteers with $3,500, with club president Sue Peters saying the local club had reached out to others in the area.
“We know the challenge of what they’re doing, helping people make the best of a difficult situation,” Peters said. “We wanted to help out, because Lions are very active in helping out.” The Logan Lake Lions donated $500, the Aberdeen and Paddlewheel clubs in Kamloops donated $1,000 each, and the Ashcroft and District Lions donated $1,000.
It means that the group helping the evacuees is fine for cash donations at the moment, says Buckland, adding that in the future they will probably be asking for bigger things that are needed. She says that if people have furniture items such as sofas, chairs and tables, dressers, and more to please hang on to them for now. “We can supply the little things.”
Buckland also suspects that there are more evacuees in the area that her group hasn’t been able to contact, and who might not know of the help available.
“Most people are in motels, a couple are billeting with family members, and others might be in an RV somewhere. ESS is a great thing, but they can’t give us any information, so we have to try to find people. We gave ESS our information and said ‘Please pass this along,’ but we think we’re still missing people who have fallen through the cracks.”
She says that people should reach out by calling her at (250) 457-0265. Evacuees should also contact the Canadian Red Cross, which is offering an additional $2,000 to Lytton evacuees and $1,200 to anyone who has been, or was, evacuated for more than 10 days.
In addition to providing practical items like gas cards, the volunteers are also able to help with other things.
“One woman was on her own, and stopped in Cache Creek because she said she felt safe here, so we got her connected with ESS. We had people who hadn’t gone to Boston Bar to get their payment from CN, so we got all their information because they couldn’t get down there. We called on a Friday night, and at 10 a.m. Saturday someone drove here with 17 envelopes with Visa gift cards. Someone didn’t know how to activate them, so we sat down and helped her.
“It’s not just a matter of giving them a card and saying ‘Have a nice day;’ someone has to help them. People are lost right now. They don’t know where they’re going or how they’re going to get there or who’s going to help them; they’re just trying to figure out how they can carry on with a normal life.”
A number of the evacuees will be starting to go home soon, and the focus will return to people from Lytton.
”A few can go back eventually, as their house is still standing, but that will leave those whose houses were burnt out. The focus will be finding somewhere for them to live in the interim. Some people from Lytton were renting there, so where do they go?”
The group is looking for any rental accommodation available in the area, and anyone who can offer it is asked to call Buckland at the number above.
“We’ll be looking after these people until they’re settled, and that could be a year,” she says. “We’ll probably end up with a group of seven to nine families, which is doable. In the meantime, if anyone knows anybody from Lytton who is living in the area, please contact us. If they have any personal needs call us, and we can put you in touch with someone who can help.
“Let them know people are here, we care, and we’ll do what we can for you.”