Kids send their best to evacuees
A special delivery cheered those forced from their Fort McMurray homes and brightened things up for the employees working to make evacuees comfortable in our campus residences.
The package of letters from a class of Grade 4 and 5 students in Ottawa and addressed to the Fort McMurray residents staying on campus was unexpected, says Karen Davis, Manager of Residence Life for SAIT. But the 40 letters on rainbow paper were a bright point for those dealing with a difficult time.
SAIT welcomed 400 evacuees from the northern city shut down by the massive fire. This is not the first time SAIT has provided emergency shelter — following the destructive floods in 2013, SAIT opened its doors to Calgarians forced to leave their homes.
"Everyone on campus pulled together," says Davis. "You could see the loss. People were really overwhelmed with what was happening. I was happy our team here was so supportive, not just to listen to them but shelter them."
A message of hope
Elementary students in Ottawa were also moved to put pencil to paper with messages of encouragement.
The letter campaign was orchestrated by Deanna Coghlin, a Grade 4 and 5 teacher at the Ottawa Jewish Community School. She had been teaching her students about social justice issues as news of the massive forest fire unfolded. In a note included with the students' handwritten letters, Coghlin explained they wanted to reach out with messages of hope and support to evacuees.
Students wrote about how scared they would have been to have to flee their homes, how brave the evacuees are and encouraging words urging them to "stay strong."
"I can't imagine losing my home and community, but I am still so happy that you are safe," wrote Daniel, a Grade 5 student at the school.
"You're being braver than I ever could if I witnessed such a big loss," wrote Talia, who is in Grade 4. "If your house has been consumed by fire, then we all hope that your community rebuilds bigger and stronger than you could've imagined!"
Happiness is contagious
Davis said the letters were a boost both to the Fort McMurray evacuees, but also SAIT employees.
"Getting these from Ontario showed the whole country is behind the evacuees," she says. "Even the staff received some uplift and laughs with the letters."
Also unexpected were the care packages received from other student housing communities, including some in the U.S., who sent parcels filled with treats to boost the busy employees.
Most of the Fort McMurray evacuees have been able to return home, and less than 50 are still staying on campus.
Davis says watching her team deal with people uprooted from their homes was inspiring.
"It made me proud to work for SAIT and be part of this community."
June 28, 2016