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St. Albert asks residents to halt donations for Citadel Mews seniors

Mayor encourages supporters to donate to national relief fund instead
A volunteer comforts a senior resident of Citadel Mews as they await the arrival of more evacuation buses following the May 6, 2021 fire at the complex. The line of seniors in wheelchairs stretched for about half a block. KEVIN MA/St. Albert Gazette

St. Albert residents eager to help elderly evacuees displaced by Thursday night's Citadel Mews fire were told by the city Friday to hold tight.

As grassroots campaigns gained steam on social media and businesses co-ordinated donations, Mayor Cathy Heron asked for a reprieve on behalf of emergency services while city adminisration worked on a widespread plan.

"Right now what I've heard is that some of the random donation boxes could become overwhelming to the fire department and emergency response," Heron told media on Friday afternoon. "I'm asking residents to be really patient, because we'll be able to co-ordinate, probably through the Red Cross, a way for people to help out," she said.

Heron said financial donations to organizations co-ordinating the response could be more helpful in this case than the donation of physical items that may not be needed. 

"I would say probably cash is best because then we can buy what we need instead of having 300 toothbrushes dropped off when we don't need that," she said.

In a Facebook post made shortly after the interview thanking residents for their continued support, Heron advised followers the City of St. Albert had confirmed plans with the Canadian Red Cross to provide donors with an authorized donation option. 

The link directed followers to a city webpage which informed potential donors the Red Cross did not have "a designated appeal fund" for the Citadel Mews fire, but encouraged supporters to donate to the Canadian Disaster Relief Fund in support of "disaster preparedness and response in Canada."

A city press release thanked those who have donated so far, and said enough had been provided locally "to address residents' immediate needs."

It stated no further donations would be required at this time.

Heron discouraged residents from adding to GoFundMe relief campaigns. "There's no way to guarantee that money will actually get to where the need is," she said.

Who is helping? 

Heron posted details on Facebook on Friday about organizations involved with recovery efforts. 

Strathcona, Leduc, and Alberta Health Services handibuses, along with St. Albert Transit buses, have been used to transport displaced residents of the seniors' complex.

All long-term care residents are being housed at the St. Albert Inn. About 50 supported-living residents will stay at the hotel through the weekend.

Residents at the St. Albert Inn have been connected with the appropriate support services, Heron wrote.  

The Red Cross is handling clothing donations, and the St. Albert Food Bank is handling donations of hygiene products. 

Medical supplies have been provided through the Citadel Care Centre's emergency network.

Aid the right way 

Elly Dalmaijer, a St. Albert resident with 14 years of experience managing disasters and needs assessments internationally, said most of the time, donated items become a "huge headache" for organizations co-ordinating a response.

There is a right way, and a wrong way, to help people after a disaster, said Dalmaijer, who has worked on relief efforts in countries such as Pakistan, Ethiopia, Rwanda, and the United States.

She said she has experienced over and over that people's generosity needs to be directed in a better way.

"We like to think that we know what people need, and that's not true. We have to give people the dignity of asking them for what they need," Dalmaijer said.

"Those people have lost so much. Don't make them lose their dignity." 

First ask families or organizations working with those affected for what they need right now, she said. And that could take time, especially while companies and residents work through insurance claims. Simply assuming what people would need could result in responders sorting through piles of unwanted clothing instead of dedicating their time to the task at hand. 

"Let these professionals, give them a few days to sort these kinds of things out. And then it will be clear what people's needs still are." 

Emotional support can be just as powerful, she said. Reach out to families affected, let them know you are there to listen to their stories.

"Let people know you care. You don't do that by sending old slippers, you do that by sending a card. There are all kinds of ways to let people know you care, that the greater community cares. I think that's the biggest need." 

Brittany Gervais

About the Author: Brittany Gervais

Brittany Gervais joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2020. She writes about city hall, business, general news and features.
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