Helping Out in High River

My husband said to me a few days ago, “Did you see that Hell or High Water t-shirt? I want one of those.” My jaw dropped – my Calgary-born and raised, Stampede-hating husband wanted a Stampede t-shirt? “It’s for flood relief, you know,” he pointed out.


Despite my Stampede-hating husband, I love Stampede, and haven’t missed a single year since moving to Calgary in 1993. Except this year.

We began renovating our house to list it for sale a few days before the floods hit and ravaged downtown Calgary, Canmore, High River and elsewhere. We’ve spent every waking hour painting, dry walling and fixing up our place to sell. While not far away, people were renovating their houses in the hopes of salvaging it and avoiding their home being condemned.

I’ve felt very selfish by focusing on our needs instead of what my neighbours down the highway need.

We finished our work on Sunday night and I immediately began planning what I could do to help High River, the worst hit area. I decided that as much as I love Stampede (it’s not just deep fried food and too short shorts), I won’t be going this year. Instead I took the $150 I would have spent on the grounds and bought sandwich fixings, apples, cookies and granola bars. The girls helped me package up 50 lunches to take to High River the next day for distribution. We had a great time talking about the importance of helping those in need, and it felt good to be doing good.

Kate and Cole making sandwiches 1

The next day I dropped off the food to the main volunteer matching tent at Riverside park and received an address of a home in need of help. I set off from the park in my van and immediately began crying. Street after street featured piles of appliances on front lawns, huge piles of belongings in back alleys and front lawns too. Furniture, drywall, clothing, kids toys, photo albums – all salvageable. Amidst it all were hundreds of volunteers in white coveralls, masks and gloves lugging, cleaning and rebuilding.

It’s one thing to know there’s need and to help from afar by making food and donating money.

It’s completely different to feel the need and sorrow and pain and pitch in to help by scrubbing sewage off an elderly couple’s belongings.

I spent six hours hosing, scrubbing and bleaching down the garage of retirees Harvey and Judy. They were lucky – their immediate neighbours on both sides, seniors as well, had lost their homes completely and they have no idea if they’ll receive any compensation for their condemned homes.

A few more volunteers showed up and the work went much more quickly. By the end of the day the garage was nearly ready to re-drywall.

Leaving, I drove by house after house with signs in the windows asking for volunteers. They need more people there. I know YYC is Open but High River isn’t. They need our help still, and will for a long while. You can help by volunteering your time to help another family salvage their life. Help is appreciated every day of the week – if you can’t spare a weekend or single weekend day, could you sacrifice a vacation day? Maybe ask your boss to coordinate a team building volunteer day? If you’re home with kids, you could call your friends and see if anyone is willing to swap childcare and each of you can take a day. Can you imagine how High River would look if every adult in Calgary, Airdrie, Okotoks, Chestermere, Strathmore and Cochrane gave just one single day of their time to the clean up effort?

I brought my camera to High River, but couldn’t bring myself to take photos. It felt like it would be just one more violation of the people there. If the photos help you connect with the need, you can see recent photos of the continuing devastation on the High River Times website.

I’d love to hear your stories of how you’re finding a way to help in the aftermath.

11 Comment

  1. Kathy Kimak says: Reply

    A friend of mine’s Dad lost most everything in the High River flood. We were planning on getting some new furniture anyway and getting rid of unused furniture in our basement, so we are giving it all to her dad to re-furnish his new apartment whenever and wherever he gets one. 🙂

  2. Leslie says: Reply

    I hope the stuff you picked up from here helped. I feel so awful that I can’t help but physical labor is not mixing well for me these days. Are there other ways to help?

    1. Sarah says: Reply

      They also need volunteers to deliver food I believe – you can ask the question here:

  3. Joan says: Reply

    Sarah, great article. I spent last Sunday volunteering in High River. It was overwhelming to see the devastation, but so wonderful to see so many people helping out. While we worked trying to salvage items for two basements, we were approached numerous times by volunteers asking if we needed help. Other volunteers came by offering water and fresh fruit and lunch was provided by a father, mother and young daughter. So amazing to see everyone pitching in. Three young men that I was volunteering with took three trailer loads of appliances to the dump. There is still so much work to be done.

  4. JodyR says: Reply

    By any chance were those people you helped out the Neilsons? I think you helped out my grade one teacher and my junior high school shop teacher. You did a great thing and this post brought tears to my eyes.

    1. Sarah says: Reply

      Yes they were Jody!

  5. Maija @ Maija's Mommy Moments says: Reply

    I would love to be able to volunteer but distance makes that impossible. We have donated to relief efforts but I’m wondering if you know of any additional ways those of us so far away can help?

    1. Sarah says: Reply

      Maija I can connect you with a friend in High River, Sundi Hoffman ( She is individually distributing $25 Toys R Us gift cards to children who lost their toy in the fire.

  6. Shandra Nielsen says: Reply

    Thank you so much for helping my Mom and Dad, Judy and Harvie Nielsen. Without the help this would have killed them. I am in Tulsa, OK and because of medical reasons can not travel. The only thing I could do was try and get help to them daily via Facebook. My parents both retired teachers, worked their whole lives for things there. My Dad an industrial Arts teacher had a very well stocked garage, thanks for your help, it would have been a daunting task. My Mom, is a hard working person who does not stop, who got her PhD when she was 56, is a person who was continually painting or redoing the house, you name it she has touched every part of the house. She apparently has lost movement in her left arm, but is still shoveling – she never listens. Thank you again, your kindness has been felt from a long ways away. I really appreciate it.

    1. Sarah says: Reply

      And now I’m crying at work! Your parents were very kind and appreciative, and your dad was fun to chat with about his tools and work. They loved telling us about how their families have helped them from coming up from the States and in other ways too. They were wonderful people to spend some time with doing a definitely dirty job!

  7. Utah says: Reply


    Helping Out in High River

Leave a Reply