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.
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.