After the flood, a wave of philanthropy

publication date: Jul 10, 2013
author/source: Janet Gadeski

“All sorts of people” responded with gifts of cash, products and work after flooding devastated the Calgary area earlier this month, says communications specialist Janice Francey of The Calgary Foundation.

Hundreds volunteered to clear local basements of mud and sewage, then moved south to the hard-hit community of High River. Staff who could not get to work in the downtown office towers grabbed shovels or organized neighborhood fundraisers. It’s obvious that the fundamental premise of philanthropy – people helping people – is as strong as ever in the city often described as “the volunteer capital of Canada.”Janet Gadeski

Area charities suffer, respond

Some Calgary charities were hit as hard as any downtown corporation. Green Fools Theatre’s studio is destroyed. So are some of its materials and $10,000 in revenue that it was set to earn during July. The National Music Centre sustained severe damage to its collection of historic instruments and electronic music artifacts. Both are now housed in temporary, donated facilities.

Other charities are already responding creatively to increased demand. The Calgary Counselling Centre is reaching out electronically. Its website features articles on handling the emotional impact of a natural disaster and helping children cope. It also highlights the ease and immediacy of registering for counselling through its confidential online intake system.

Her own home lost, Jocelyn Rempel feeds others

For some, helping others is a way to respond to the distress of their own losses. Jocelyn Rempel owns the Farm Girls food truck with her sister Amy Wenger. Jocelyn lost the foundation of her century home to the rising waters. She knew she didn’t want to survive on fast food and convenience store snacks, and she didn’t want that for other survivors either. After a few days of helping neighbors clean basements, the sisters fired up the truck and started serving nourishing home-made food to survivors and volunteers.

Other businesses stepped in to keep the Farm Girls truck going once the sisters’ own supplies ran low. “Serving those people with a free meal was the perfect therapy,” Rempel later told the Calgary Sun. “Everyone else was helping us so it was the least we could do – help other people.”

Corporations step up

When the flood happened, Teri Shortreed of First Calgary Financial immediately thought, “How will we help? We’re a credit union, so our business is founded on people helping people.”

She used internal email and social media to set up a volunteer registry for First Calgary staff. Within a day, she had 70 volunteers and a commitment from the company to release any nonessential staff who wanted to help address flood damage in Calgary and High River.

Each evening, Shortreed tweeted “What’s needed?” through the company Twitter account. Next morning when volunteers showed up, she handed them their assignments along with bleach, masks and boots. One day she tweeted a call for household supplies, personal items and gift cards to feed, clothe and equip a group of seniors evacuated to empty cabins. The contributions filled the company’s loading dock within 24 hours.

But First Calgary isn’t an exception, Shortreed notes. “Everyone wants to help,” she observes. “I never thought I’d see so many bankers up to their knees in mud and sewage!”

Some staff flooded, Calgary Foundation still raises funds

A designated fund for flood rebuilding at The Calgary Foundation hit $3.5 million in under a month. Even though a quarter of its staff were affected by the flood, the Foundation is mobilizing the spirit of giving through every available network and tactic. It has even designed “Flood Rebuilding Fund Donate Now” buttons available in a variety of sizes for supporters to add to their own websites.

“I’m so proud of all these partners who have stepped up unbelievably,” Francey reflects. “What else could be more important than volunteering?”

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