Community responds to wildfires in Alberta through help of JustServe

Wildfire disaster recovery page becomes resource for Edmonton area as JustServe helps with communication, identifying needs, making connections and mobilizing the community

Throughout May, tens of thousands of people were forced to evacuate their homes in the province of Alberta, Canada, because of wildfires

Many residents from Drayton Valley, 145 kilometers (about 90 miles) southwest of Edmonton, flocked to nearby Hinton and were gone from their homes for nearly two weeks. A state of emergency was declared, and only just ended on June 3.

Central Alberta JustServe specialist Sarah Mosaico and local leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints worked with community leaders to find out what the evacuated residents needed and how volunteers and organizations could help. 

JustServe is a website and app where organizations can post their volunteer needs and where people can find ways to serve around them. Mosaico knows when people are faced with a natural disaster, “there are many other important ways that JustServe can benefit communities.”

A new wildfire disaster recovery page for north and central Alberta on helped the community communicate, mobilize, coordinate, collaborate and connect during the natural disaster.

Identifying needs and mobilizing 

When Melvin Wong — a local communication director for the Church — learned that evacuees in Hinton were staying in their cars or RVs, he knew evacuee kits or 72-hour emergency kits would be valuable. Wong had been involved in relief efforts in Slave Lake, Alberta, during previous wildfires, explained the Church’s Canada Newsroom.

The need for evacuee kits was posted on JustServe — including information on what to include, how to package them, and where and when to deliver them. The posting was then shared on social media.

After seeing that post, the greater Edmonton community mobilized to gather more than 300 evacuee kits in under 12 hours. The kits, as well as 100 blankets and 100 pillows, were distributed in Hinton.

Community members gather at a building of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Sherwood Park, Alberta, on May 6, 2023, to assemble evacuee kits for people displaced by Alberta wildfires. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Linda Bennet, Relief Society president in the Hinton Branch, Edmonton Alberta Riverbend Stake, expressed her appreciation to all those who had helped. 

“Thank you, thank you. The truckload was amazing. It was so emotional for all … to witness the love and support coming from Edmonton,” she said.

Fort Saskatchewan High School student Hannah Skinner joined one of several gatherings of Church members in Edmonton and Sherwood Park to gather items for those in need. 

“I was grateful for the opportunity to help,” Hannah said. “Sometimes it’s hard to know how one person can help, but when [my family and I] found out there was something we could do, we were happy to come. … I know things are difficult for people right now, so I hope it can help.”

Hundreds of more kits continued to be collected, and the Central Alberta JustServe team distributed the supplies to other communities in need, including the Metis Settlements General Council.

Hundreds of residents of East Prairie Metis Settlement had also been evacuated, and many homes had burned, explained the Newsroom report. 

Mosaico said, “When the JustServe teams contacted the Metis Settlements to assess their need for kits, they said they were just about to go shopping for the needed items.” The already-assembled kits were delivered just in time.

Leaders and staff at the Metis Settlements General Council office in Edmonton, Alberta, receive evacuee kits on May 18, 2023, donated by community members to help those impacted by wildfires.
Leaders and staff at the Metis Settlements General Council office in Edmonton, Alberta, receive evacuee kits on May 18, 2023, donated by community members to help those impacted by wildfires. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Connections and collaboration

Over time, the JustServe teams in Central Alberta have created a network of community groups who work together. 

“Through the JustServe program, you find a lot of new friends. When times are tough, you call on old friends,” Mosaico said.

Different groups and faiths joined wildfire relief efforts posted on JustServe. The Spruce Grove Community Church and the We Together Strong Community postal worker group provided around 200 meals to displaced persons in Spruce Grove and another 200 meals to firefighters working in Whitecourt.

Bishop Corey Hill of the Pioneer Ward in the Edmonton Alberta North Stake delivered food kits. Other churches and community groups offered gas cards and monetary donations. 

JustServe specialists Brian and Myrna Lillie encouraged the community to join the Spruce Grove Community Church’s efforts. “It was great to have churches unite to help the community,” said Brian Lillie.

Andrew Lee and Isaac Gonzalez of the Stony Plain Ward in the Edmonton Alberta North Stake, left, contribute food donations to Chris Banas of the Spruce Grove Community Church, center, along with JustServe specialists Brian Lillie and Myrna Lillie, right, on May 7, 2023. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Businesses have used JustServe listings to find out where employees could volunteer in their communities. During the Alberta wildfires, JustServe specialists reached out to local businesses to share where they could meet needs.

For example, Mosaico said, when the fires threatened the local power supply in Hinton, grocery stores were afraid their perishable food items would be lost. 

So the JustServe team reached out to a local refrigeration truck company. The company’s owner, Owen Peynado, said he would supply a large truck to the city free of charge.

When he was a teenager, his house had burned down. He said the community was there for his family, and he knew that’s what communities need to do for each other. In the end, his truck was not needed as the power supply was preserved.

Continued support 

As people return home, they still have needs to be met. As ongoing needs are identified in areas impacted by the wildfires, these needs are turned into JustServe projects and posted on the disaster recovery page. Community members continue to reach out to offer their assistance.

An ad for disaster recovery efforts in north and central Alberta through
The JustServe website and app are being used in North and Central Alberta communities to communicate, mobilize, coordinate, collaborate and connect during the May 2023 wildfires and afterward. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
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