$128-Million and Growing - The Canadian Red Cross Response to Wildfire Crisis
Even while 80,000 people were driving bumper to bumper out of Fort McMurray the Canadian Red Cross were mobilizing in preparation of the fallout from one of the worst wildfires in recent history. During the days leading up to the massive exodus, Jenn McManus, vice president of the Canadian Red Cross in Alberta, was busy keeping tabs on the situation and speaking with colleagues across the country. On May 2, the day before the evacuation, McManus put her staff and volunteers on alert.
“I am really fortunate to have such an amazing Red Cross team here in Alberta,” said McManus. There is 80 full time staff and 715 trained volunteers, according to McManus, many of whom rushed to the aid of evacuees. Currently there are 1000 Red Cross personnel from across the province and the country responding to various needs. That response required not only bodies but dollars as well.
As of June 5 the Canadian Red Cross had raised $128-million and donations continue to pour in. This number does not include federal and provincial commitments to match the Red Cross total. Initially $50-million were dispensed to evacuees with $600 per adult and $300 per child. At the time of writing, 99 per cent of those funds were already allocated.
“It was the fastest release of funds in a humanitarian response anywhere on the globe,” McManus said.
The Red Cross also earmarked $40-million to provide re-entry support with evacuees receiving $300 for heads of household and $50 for each additional member.
On June 2 Conrad Sauve, president and CEO of the Canadian Red Cross, made an announcement that $50-million has been reserved for community stakeholders and community groups for recovery assistance and for building resiliency in the community.
“We are going to strike an advisory committee to help us identify those community groups and institutions that are the backbone of Fort McMurray and Wood Buffalo so we can work together to make sure we are providing funding to those groups that already do amazing work in the community,” McManus said.
Financial backing for all three of these goals has come from various sources. According to McManus, it was the online fund development website that was essential to enabling the organization to respond so quickly to the crisis. It was activated within hours of the mandatory evacuation order.
“Online donations have been tremendous; it is easy and secure for people across Canada who wanted to participate. We also had people texting in donations of $5 and $10 to the Canadian Red Cross. And then what kicked into gear was our national corporate partners,” McManus said. “We are so honoured and grateful for our national corporate partners. They have really been quite outstanding”
Family foundations, individuals stopping by Red Cross offices, fund raising efforts at schools, community swimming pools, and the like also added dollars to the coffers. Community fundraisers are still ongoing coast to coast at time of writing and continue to raise money for the relief effort. McManus did not have a total dollar amount due to these ongoing efforts. Yet, even without a final tally, fund raising efforts in response to the Fort McMurray wildfires have already made history making this domestic campaign the most financially successful to date. Red Cross leaders have promised that donated money will not leave the region.
“The cost of fundraising will not exceed five per cent...The monies will be held in a legal trust. It is earmarked for this event only. It will not be moved to another community,” McManus remarked. “The only monies that will leave Alberta are those monies allocated for evacuees who have left the province,” she continued.
Monies from the trust will be used to assist everyone impacted by the wildfires, including the Municipality of Wood Buffalo, as well as First Nations and Métis communities.
There will be many challenges in the months and years ahead and McManus has promised the Red Cross will maintain a presence in the area.
“I am inspired by the tenacity and the resiliency of the people of Wood Buffalo. I feel very honoured to walk alongside of you – we will be in Fort McMurray for years to come,” McManus said.