Spirit of Calgary

I’ll admit I didn’t know what I was getting into when I showed up at McMahon Stadium this morning. One thing, I knew it would be an adventure.  I baked some carrot muffins last night and thawed some GF banana bread from the freezer and took it with me. It took some time to organize; we all had to fill out an information sheet (waiver). We lined up, got our forms signed and waited to board the buses. They couldn’t accommodate all the people on the buses so they had us split into groups of 100 and given an address. My destination was Bowness. I met a random group of people and we piled into a vehicle for the drive there.

When we got there it was a bit of chaos. Those in charge were not expecting 100 volunteers that were not residents of the community to show up. But people spoke up and asked for what they needed.

  • 10 people to help the military with administrative duties until 10pm
  • Helping a homeowner at xxx address to clean up
  • Helping resettle evacuated residents of a seniors home

The local Sportsplex was set up as a central command centre. There was a place to register volunteers, an area for those who need help to pick up supplies. And a ton of donations. Rona brought in a ton of pails and garbage cans. I helped offload donated clothing and rags that a local chiropractic office had collected.

Our first assignment of the day was to help  a homeowner cleanup. We entered the red zone. The red zone is an area where it has not been cleared for the evacuees to return home.  Traffic into the affected areas is controlled by police. There is no power, gas, and possibly water. Nevertheless, in areas where the water had cleared, homeowners returned to start the cleanup. As we drove to the affected area, I could not help but notice all the drywall, furniture and personal effects on people’s front lawns. We passed a house with “no power, no gas” and a cat sitting in the window.  The roads were either muddy or dusty. We passed by a building that housed some 911 equipment. It was surrounded by sandbags and booms. When we arrived, we were put to work cleaning with bleach and drying items just moved out of the basement. The guys were helping with the heavy lifting of the appliances out of the basement. Then they gutted and removed the drywall.

After that assignment, our motley crew went in search of more work. Everyone we passed by seemed to have all the help they needed. So we went back to the Sportsplex to help out.

Our next assignment came when one of our group helped a lady who was shell shocked and not sure of the help she needed. So six of us went over to her house and helped her clear out the garage. There was a lot of stuff in there, most of it was mud soaked and we took it out.  She really struggled with throwing out her possessions.

Calgarians are exceptional. In all my years of volunteering, I have not seen a grassroots movement this large. Let me list some of the high points:

  • 2500 volunteers showed up at McMahon Stadium for their assignments (they were planning to sign up 600)
  • Mayor Nenshi was there, firing up the crowd and thanking everyone for their help
  • One person stood up organized a random group of people. We counted to 100 as a group so we could be given an address to go to
  • Don’t be a Nenshi noun! (Don’t be an idiot)
  • How can I help? Was the motto for the day.
  • I met a guy from England that has been in Calgary for 3 weeks who volunteered. He started a job at the UofC. I told him this isn’t what you would normally expect in town.
  • I made at least 5-6 new friends today. One of them is picking me up tomorrow to go back to Bowness
  • Shaw set up a station to hand out food and snacks for the volunteers on a street in Bowness
  • A homeowner who was flooded, set up a volunteer registration and food station on her front lawn
  • Food trucks were handing out free food at McMahon.
  • The volunteer station on Bow Crescent was happy to receive the carrot muffins and GF banana bread
  • The organizers made sure the volunteers were well fed and watered in the community
  • A shout out to my new friends, Hugh, Rick, Faye, Penny, Pheobe and Sandy

The lack of formal organization compared to the amount of stuff that got done was truly amazing. There is a lot of humanity and compassion in Calgary, that shows up in situations like this. People just took the initiative. So many donations, in the way of supplies and food for the volunteers.One person in our group asked how the homeowner was feeling, and paused to listen. Some homeowners were grateful for the number of volunteers that spontaneously showed up.

You too can help. Visit the page yychelps.ca, check out calgary.ca for volunteers ops, find friends that have just returned home and see if they need help, or show up at one of the community muster stations. As for me, I will be headed back to Bowness tomorrow morning. Then back to work on Wednesday. I’m proud to be a resident of this fine city.

Calgary, I love you, even more today.

Bowness Sportsplex - Community muster station
Bowness Sportsplex – Community muster station
Donation table at Bowness Sportsplex
Donation table at Bowness Sportsplex
Garage cleanup in Bowness
Garage cleanup in Bowness