The Red Cross symbol has always been in the background of our lives. As a young child, we were given a Red Cross pin to wear after we did fundraising at school and of course we grew up with badges stitched to our bathing suits designating the level of our expertise in the Red Cross Water Safety programs.
In crisis situations across the world, we see the photos of that familiar logo, more recently in Slave Lake (2011) and Calgary (2013). Our first reaction at United Way is immediately to send donors to the Canadian Red Cross. We are confident that they have the trained staff and volunteers ready to be deployed immediately to support emergencies.
Driving down the highway on May 3rd, the inquiries began arriving to my inbox before I even had a sense of the full urgency of our situation. It was a tremendous relief to know that at the end of the road, thousands of my neighbours and friends were greeted by compassionate volunteers and staff of the Red Cross, and provided with the basic essentials of water, personal care items, and a blanket to curl up with.
Over the last few weeks we have witnessed with astonishment the outpouring of support from across North America through the Canadian Red Cross. I had the opportunity, along with a couple of board members, to meet with Conrad Sauve, Canadian Red Cross C.E.O. and Jenn McManus, V.P. for Alberta and NWT. It was reassuring to have a conversation with these leaders and learn about their plans to work together within our community and others that have been impacted by this devastating disaster.
It was reassuring that they view themselves as a conduit to direct funding to support Wood Buffalo as we undertake the rebuilding of our hometown. They will also provide direct supports for individuals and families. Their commitment to us was one of working collaboratively in the development of a plan that taps into local expertise. We look forward to sharing any wisdom and guidance we can provide. The Governments of Alberta and Canada agreed to a matching program for personal donations to the Red Cross. This Thursday, May 31st is the final day of getting matching funds from the federal government. Anyone who has been planning to contribute is reminded to keep that date in mind to maximize your contribution.
The United Way of Fort McMurray has been supported by our peers from United Ways across Canada, including the creation of a direct giving website at Unitedforfortmcmurray.ca. The goal of the funds we are raising is to be ready to support the community’s charitable and social profit organizations in the upcoming days and months as we adjust to a changed reality. We anticipate additional stresses for these community benefit organizations including getting necessary supplies to re-open amenities, and having enough staff available to get fully operational. Access to quality childcare for their own families could be a challenge in the early stages of re-entry. General workplace safety and access to water will be concerns, as will access to mental health supports for clients as well as employees.
An immediate priority will be determining how the services and programming provided in our community benefit organizations will be changed to address the short and long term gaps and needs of our community as we seek to acquire a renewed sense of normalcy. Knowing that our most vulnerable citizens and families will be at an increased risk and that new vulnerabilities will emerge, we invite donors to consider this important option as a way to invest directly to help the social support organizations which will have an accelerated and changed demand for their services. With an already compromised economy prior to this disaster, we know that in addition to the agencies which we have long-standing partnerships with, that we will also be considering the needs from different organizations who find themselves unable to be responsive to community requirements without additional funds.
United Way has been in Fort McMurray since 1978 and this will be our greatest challenge undertaken as we continue our commitment to providing funding and partnership strength with the lowest fundraising and administrative costs possible. We are proud of our Imagine Canada accreditation which identifies that we operate at the highest levels of excellence in fundraising, volunteer management, transparency and accountability in our fundraising efforts, and strong governance, volunteer and staff management. We hope that you consider supporting our initiative through Unitedforfortmcmurray.ca and encourage you to learn more about us through our website.
Please reach out to us for more information and follow us on Facebook and Twitter to watch our progress and keep up-to-date on the wonderful fundraising projects that are being hosted across the country including a benefit concert in New Brunswick, an art show in Saskatchewan, and an online sports memorabilia auction. There is no end to the creativeness and commitment of our supporters and we thank everyone for your support of ALL the charitable efforts that are being undertaken to support our return to our home.
As a special gift to donors of $100 or more to our United For Fort McMurray campaign, we are able to offer a commemorative print of an amazing portrait of RMWB Fire Chief Darby Allen. Our new friends at Run Digital Inc. in Calgary have stepped forward to help make this happen.
Like many of our friends and neighbours, we are looking forward to returning home. We recognize that lots of work lies ahead as we work together with partners from all sectors to rebuild our community. We are eager to get started.
The United Way of Fort McMurray