When an emergency strikes and you have to leave home with little warning it is difficult to think what you need to take. At least that was my experience when we left our home in Fort McMurray.  We took next to nothing, partly because we truly believed we would not be gone longer than overnight, and partly because we were kept busy with phone calls and discussions with our friends/landlords who lived upstairs.  I had packed just one change of clothing for myself and my husband. When we left home temperatures were in the 30 degree Celsius mark.  Consequently we were both wearing sandals and light-weight clothing. I did think to throw in a light hoodie for myself and a warm sweater for my husband, just in case the temps dropped in the evening.

As we all know there are certain life necessities: food, water, shelter, and clothing. The first day was a blur of activity and the weather continued warm the next day. However, by the time we reached Sylvan Lake temperatures had dropped. I had no socks and my feet were frozen. My hoody was no protection from the chill and even with a second hoody borrowed from my son and socks borrowed from my daughter-in-law I was still cold. We arrived Thursday evening. First order of business, settle our animals: my son and daughter-in-law’s two dogs and our cat. After sorting out sleeping arrangements we headed out to grab food and to buy a change of clothing. Friday morning we headed down to the place where clothing, toiletries, etc. were being given out to evacuees.

We were all tired, stressed, and overwhelmed by the sight of tables of clothing piled high. Not one of us had the energy to go through the mass of clothing. Volunteers at that centre helped us to find warm clothing – including a bright pink winter jacket for me, which I gratefully donned. Searching through footwear on the floor I found slippers, a pair of hiking boots, and pink crocs that matched my pink jacket. I will be forever grateful to those volunteers who sorted through the tons of clothing and gave out baskets and totes full of necessities such as soap, deodorant, and shampoo.  At home I had more clothing than I strictly needed and facing all the unknowns such as when we could return home and when we could get back to work made me leery of spending money on clothes I really wouldn’t need once I got home. I plan to re-donate these things once I am safe at home.

The kindnesses of strangers will remain with me as long as I am able to take a breath.  In the midst of stress and anxiety I am so grateful to the many people reached out to evacuees and offered help in a variety of ways. I will spend the rest of my life endeavoring to do the same.

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