Salvation Army Responds to Floods Across British Columbia

Ewa receives a box of supplies for her children's program from The Salvation Army

The Salvation Army’s emergency disaster services (EDS) have been serving British Columbians in multiple communities—from Abbotsford and Chilliwack, to Hope, Merritt and Kamloops—sharing hope amid great hardship.

Living in Merritt, Ewa Olguin is no stranger to evacuations, unfortunately. This is her second evacuation this year, after she was forced to leave her home due to wildfires during the summer.

“You always think you are prepared, but you’re never prepared,” she reflects.

The flooding in Merritt, a town of 7,000 people about 200 kilometres northeast of Abbotsford, took her by surprise. “On Sunday, everything was good,” she says. “It was raining but we never really get that much rain.”

So, on Monday morning, when Olguin, who runs a Strong Start program for the local school district, got a phone call saying the schools would be closed due to the flood, she was in disbelief. “I’m thinking, Which flood?” she recalls. “I started checking with friends and we realized half of the town was under water, and the water was coming our way.”

Olguin evacuated to Kamloops, an hour’s drive away, where The Salvation Army is providing food, hydration and emotional and spiritual care at the local reception centre.

“We started bringing coats down and handing them out.”

“We got the call from the city of Kamloops at about 2 p.m., and by 3 p.m., we were here, set up and serving,” says Captain Kelly Fifield, corps officer, Kamloops Community Church. “There were people arriving at the reception centre by the busload, so it was a very busy night.”

At first, Captain Fifield and her team of volunteers were serving from a community response unit, but quickly realized they needed to adjust their strategy.

“People were in line and they were terrified to leave because, if they left, they’d lose their spot and they wanted to make sure that they got a bed,” she says. “So we grabbed some baskets, filled them with snacks and sandwiches and drinks, and started walking the line and chatting with people, making sure they were OK.”

As they talked with people, they discovered that many were cold. As providence would have it, the corps had just finished its annual Coats for Folks campaign and had an ample supply available.

“The Salvation Army is doing an amazing job here in town, doing food and drinks for people.”

“We started bringing coats down and handing them out as people were standing in line because so many just ran out and didn’t have time to grab anything, especially those who were showing up on the bus,” Captain Fifield says. “We were here until about 11 p.m. trying to get people settled, make sure they had what they needed.”

“The Salvation Army is doing an amazing job here in town, doing food and drinks for people,” Olguin says. “It’s like, wow. Because when you’re staying here and you’re far away from home, you don’t really have money to spend, you’re on a budget. I have five kids. Other moms here have three, four kids—they’re big families. It really helps what The Salvation Army did for us.”

Olguin was given a room at the Thompson Hotel and soon discovered that several families who were regular participants in her Strong Start program were also staying there.

“You did so much for people in our community. We are so grateful.”

“When the kids saw me, they said, ‘Teacher, teacher! Let’s play!’ ” Olguin says. “Well, when they say let’s play, we have to play. There are so many children here and I thought we need to do something for them to let them forget.”

Olguin started hosting a children’s program, similar to the one she runs in Merritt, at the hotel from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. But she needed supplies, and that’s where The Salvation Army came in.

“They provided snacks and books and crafts for my class, and Kelly is always checking on me if I need more,” Olguin notes.

As she is finally able to return to her home in Merritt this coming Sunday, Olguin offers thanks to the Army for the support she and others have received these past weeks. “You did so much for people in our community,” she says. “We are so grateful.”

The Army’s EDS vehicle remains on site at the reception centre, handing out food and drinks and providing any other assistance that is needed. As of December 1, the Army has provided 3,114 meals, 6,549 snacks and 4,158 drinks in Kamloops.

By Kristin Ostensen

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