Wood Buffalo Food Bank - Here For Fort McMurray
The road to recovery wasn’t easy for our team at the Wood Buffalo Food Bank, but we were up for the task and ready to start supporting the community.
The battle began a couple weeks after the May 3rd evacuation, as the process to become deemed an essential service and be allowed early entry was quite the task. All staff were on standby in various locations across Canada, ready to come back at a moment’s notice. Many volunteered at food banks close to where they were staying, while others worked closely with Alberta Food Banks to keep our community notified, and to help with the donations coming in from several places around the country. After approximately three weeks of trying to find the right contacts and constantly pushing for our place, we were finally granted access and were able to start preparations for the trip back home.
On Friday, May 27, Executive Director Arianna Johnson, along with the management staff, made their way back to Fort McMurray to meet with the adjustors and check on the condition of the Food Bank building. They knew it wasn’t going to be pleasant, but they had no idea how bad it would actually be. The morning before the evacuation, we had received a very large order of raw chicken, along with milk and eggs. Upon return, we were notified there was no power for seven days. When entering the warehouse, the smell hit everyone like a sack of bricks. This was going to be a big job.
The remaining staff arrived in the following few days and everyone got right to work to restore the Food Bank. Everything had to be thrown out, except cans, which had to be washed in a three-step sanitization process before any distribution could take place. Every nook and cranny of the place had to be wiped down and sanitized. This was no small task, and we received amazing support from various organizations who rolled up their sleeves and volunteered their time and services to help with the dirty work. Team Rubicon did an amazing work with the cleaning. Total Safety Services brought in an air trailer so workers could clean the walk-in cooler and freezers while under supplied air. Alberta Furnace Cleaning cleaned all of the vents and ducts, and many other community individuals came by to lend a hand as well.
The walls were washed, the floors and shelves repainted. Our warehouse never looked better, and on Monday, June 6, we received the amazing news that the building passed inspection and we were able to restock! Although a little delayed from our hopes of being open on June 1st, we couldn’t have been happier to begin the next step that would bring us closer to opening our doors. Member Food Banks of the Alberta Food Banks Association had worked hard to collect food donations and store them in various warehouses, waiting for us to give the green light. As soon as they got the call, trucks started rolling up the highway to bring us food to fill our shelves. Shell Albian Sands sent us a large group of volunteers who helped with this process, and within four and a half days we were set to open and start serving clients.
“It is very rewarding helping the public and to see first hand how grateful the community is,” said Jeff Eastman from Shell.
“Yeah, it’s been an awesome experience and a privilege to be able to help. It’s instant gratification to see that smile on people’s faces,” Dennis Feller, also from Shell, agreed.
After weeks of cleaning, sanitizing, painting walls, floors and shelving, disposing of 53,257 possibly contaminated food items, washing 20 pallets of cans, restocking shelves and passing inspections, on Saturday, June 11th, at noon, we served our first clients since being closed for over a month. We were ecstatic. It was hard for us to turn away those in the previous days, so we were finally happy to be able to help. Volunteers worked tirelessly in the warehouse, packing hampers and getting them out the doors to the line-up of clients. In that first day, with only being open for seven hours, we handed out 124 hampers, which fed over 600 individuals. Ninety-eight per cent of these were new clients, having never accessed the Food Bank before. This was shocking, and we didn’t know what we could expect in the days to come.
The next day we opened at 10 a.m. and a lineup had already started. We were set to run until 7 p.m. Even though we had a downpour in the middle of the day, the line-up never slowed down. We handed out 192 hampers and had to close our doors an hour early because we had run out of resources and needed to restock. Because of this serious strain on our available warehouse resources, the decision was made that we would have to cap our daily hampers at 150.
“How do you say thank-you to someone that always puts others above themselves? To someone that is always willing to make the personal and professional sacrifices so that others who are less fortunate may have a little hope in their lives? To someone that despite their worse days, will always put a smile on their face to make sure you have a better day? This is what the entire team at the Wood Buffalo Food Bank does every single day. Despite their own personal tragedies, they faced during Fort McMurray’s darkest hours, they did not waiver in their passion and commitment to our community. Every day they got up, put their own issues aside and went to work, working up to 14 hours a day to get the Food Bank up and running as quickly as possible because they knew and understood the demand would be great, and people in our community needed them. Their hearts are golden, their spirit is bright and our community is much greater because of each and every one of them.
So how do you say thank you? I honestly don’t know, but I do know we all should be so grateful for these amazing people. You may not see their capes, but they are superheroes.” – Paul McWilliams, Board Chair of the Wood Buffalo Food Bank Association.
This experience has been life-changing for our entire team. We stuck together like never before, supporting each other, and supporting the community. Many laughs were shared, tears were shed, stories told, and memories made, as we returned and worked together to help our city get back on its feet. Even though some of our staff and volunteers have lost their homes, we all found a home here at the Food Bank. We are here for each other, and we are here for Fort McMurray. We will rebuild.
Team Rubicon with Board Chair Paul McWilliams; Staff members suit up to battle the walk-ins; Alberta Furnace Cleaning donates HVAC system cleaning and repair; Slide created to empty the second floor of food and products; Shell employees lend many helping hands, making much work light.