FROM THE TOWN AND MD OF BONNYVILLE
“Thank you Bonnyville and area for all of your hard work and dedication.”
That is the message Town of Bonnyville Mayor Gene Sobolewski and Municipal District of Bonnyville Reeve Ed Rondeau want to deliver to all the members of the community who assisted in any way with the evacuees from Fort McMurray during the past month.
Sobolewski says a simple thank you seems like such an inadequate response to the unprecedented mobilization the community undertook to welcome the evacuees. “I cannot begin to name the people who have contributed to the effort to house and assist the Fort McMurray evacuees. The list would be too long. From the beginning, on May 4, to the present day, members of the community stepped up to help the evacuees who were arriving in Bonnyville and the surrounding area. People set aside their work and home obligations to roll out the welcome mat and provide much needed services. And they kept on giving as the weeks progressed.”
Rondeau says the initial response came from town and M.D. staff and local service agencies, but it quickly expanded to include the whole community. “There was a lot of work, a lot of late nights and long hours for a lot of people.”
Once the Town of Bonnyville was designated an official Reception Centre, a total of 979 evacuees registered. Emergency Social Services estimates there was another 300 people who came to Bonnyville to stay in campgrounds, with friends or relatives. On average, staff at the Centennial Centre were feeding 250 people a day. As Fort McMurray has opened back up, most of the evacuees have returned to their homes. Although a few have remained to access medical services or because their children are in school.
The Reception Centre is now closed and the Centennial Centre is back to normal business. The Donation Centre at the Bonnyville Baptist Church will close on Friday, June 24.
Sobolewski says the community can be proud of the seamless services that were offered to evacuees. “Staff at the C2 Centre provided supper for 500 people on the first day with less than five hours notice. The Bonnyville Baptist Church took on the materials management role by opening the donation centre. Decisions were made quickly to meet the needs of the evacuees we were assisting. Community groups provided meals the first week until the town was officially designated a reception centre. It was incredible how the community came together to meet all the challenges we faced.”
“People came when they were called,” Rondeau said. “Employers let staff volunteer where needed, some for an extended period of time. The answer was always ‘yes’ to even the most complex requests. Everyone came together to make it work.”
As the work winds down, both men urge all those who worked with the evacuees to take some time to care for themselves. “It has been an incredibly emotional time. Our volunteers provided compassionate support to people who went through a shattering experience. It can take a lot out of you,” Sobolewski said.
The Town and the M.D. will be hosting an appreciation event in September for all those people who assisted with the evacuee response. In the meantime, Sobolewski says he will be talking about the many stories that have emerged from the community’s response to the evacuation. “Bonnyville has a reputation of being an incredibly generous community. Our response to the Fort McMurray evacuees solidifies that reputation.”