Fiona Relief attracts big names, big donations

By Jaymie White

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

ST. JOHN'S — On Sunday, Oct. 30, just over a month after post-tropical depression Fiona made landfall on the Southwest coast, the Hurricane Fiona benefit concert, We Stand On Guard Again, took place at the Mary Brown’s Centre in St. John’s. The televised concert featured a multitude of Newfoundland and Labrador's most talented musicians, including such favourites as Shanneyganock, Kellie Loder, The Irish Descendants, and Masterless Men, who performed live during the two-hour event, with all proceeds going to the Canadian Red Cross in support of Hurricane Fiona efforts.

Closing out the show was Shanneyganock, which was fitting since frontman Chris Andrews first spearheaded the event.

“After seeing the footage of the devastation that happened on the Southwest coast, like a lot of people, I was just moved and wanted to help,” said Andrews. “The only way I really knew how to help was to have a concert and raise money. We had done something similar for Igor and for Badger when it flooded, so we already had a template, and I reached out to Mayor Brian Button and asked if it would be something of interest. He said of course, so then I started from there and it all came together.”

Andrews said a committee was set up to organize the benefit concert, and it consisted of new faces and those who were on the committee for Hurricane Igor relief.

“We had a lot of professional people who were able to do their jobs and get things going and happening fast,” said Andrews. “I got the ball rolling, but I am just part of a massive team who made this happen. I especially wanted to give a shout out to our committee. It was a volunteer committee of professionals that came together. They are the core of this event. I got it started but it was a team effort from start to finish. Also, to the artists, the corporate sponsors, and the people – the people were just amazing – there was support from all sides. Everyone wanted to be a part of it.”

The concert raised $1.69 million, including the federal government's matching contributions. One of the corporate sponsors, Mary Brown's, decided against donating just 50 per cent of their days’ sales, and instead chose to contribute their entire day’s sales to the cause, totaling $335,000.

Darlene Giles, Creative Director at Mary Brown’s said the idea to donate 100 per cent of their proceeds came directly from Greg Roberts, the owner of Mary Brown's.

“It started with him, and of course we all got on board,” said Giles. “Greg is a very generous man and loves his home province – and all of us at Mary Browns are very connected to community and to family – and it’s just a big part of our brand. I honestly think, in the moment, Greg realized he wanted to do more, and changed it from 50 to 100 so we could give a really huge donation.”

Giles said the public support made it one of their busiest days of sales across the province.

“There were big lineups at the stores, and everybody just rallied around the idea, which was totally amazing. We did a lot of promotion around it. We did some interviews with TV and radio, and we had social media. We had e-blasts. We had VOCM radio. Everybody was talking about it. There was a lot of promotion around making it happen,” said Giles. “But then I think, it’s just inherent to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. They are known for their generosity and for wanting to help one another. People just wanted to help, and I think this was a great way for everyone to enjoy a meal at Mary Brown's and do a good thing at the same time.”

Dan Bedell, Communications Director (Atlantic) with the Canadian Red Cross, said the funds donated will be helpful in providing relief to all of those affected by Hurricane Fiona, not just those residing within this province. The funds will be spread out over the relief effort, ensuring the Canadian Red Cross can continue to offer the necessary support to displaced households.

“Typically, with a response like this, a major disaster response, there’s the initial period where people are out of their homes, like we’re seeing now. We’re still supporting 59 people in hotels around Port aux Basques. There's the $500 payments we are making, which is separate from the government funds that we are administering, the two dollar amounts we are doing on behalf of government,” explained Bedell. “As people get a better sense of what their costs are going to be, whether that be repairing or rebuilding, replacing the home and their contents, how much of that is covered by insurance, how much of that is going to be covered by the government unrelated to anything the Red Cross is doing, then we will better understand what the gap is going to be. We know there is always going to be a gap and for some that gap is going to be really big. For others it will be a little less, but that is the area where we like to come through with funds from events like this.”

Bedell said this is an unimaginably difficult time for the families impacted by Fiona, and the Red Cross will continue to help.

“There’s a lot of moving parts, but there’s a lot of need,” said Bedell. “We will do as much as we can to help those who need it the most and others who have been impacted in a significant way by this storm.”

Seamus O’Regan, Minister of Labour, was present for the concert and spent time on the Southwest coast in the wake of Fiona, which he admitted was difficult to witness.

“Absolutely gut-wrenching. As a reporter I had spent time on Igor, and with Igor there were a lot of roads that were hit, and therefor communities were cut off. But with this hurricane, you do have infrastructure damage, but it was peoples’ homes and their personal effects,” said O’Regan. “I always remember when I was 13 or 14 years old, growing up in Goose Bay, we had a forest fire that almost took out the town, and we had to evacuate our home and we didn’t think we would see it again. Thank God the wind turned and the town was saved, but we had to pack up and sit in the middle of the tarmac of the airport, hoping the fire didn’t get us, and I remember my mom being really upset. My mom is a pretty cool character, but she couldn’t find the wedding photos, and that’s what people lost. That’s what we were finding on the beaches, hockey card collections, LPs, and photos, and that’s the part that gets people. You can’t replace it. That’s your home. It’s gut wrenching and really emotional.”

O’Regan said it was important for the government to go and talk to the people affected, because it gives them the ability to make more accurate decisions when it comes to providing help, and people need to be able to rely on their government in times of crisis. The federal government matching the amount raised for the Fiona benefit concert is just one of the ways they are helping.

O’Regan was the one to introduce Mayor Brian Button to the crowd at Mary Brown's Centre as well as the crowd watching at home.

“I wanted to introduce Brian Button because I’ve met a lot of politicians and a lot of public leaders in my career, both as a reporter and as a politician staffer, and now as a politician, and he is one of the most impressive,” said O’Regan. “He keeps a cool head and it’s not easy at all. I was just so impressed by everybody in all of these communities. People were hurting, but man, we often say – and it’s almost a cliché - that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are resilient, but we really are.”

Mayor Brian Button has been the face of the relief effort in Port aux Basques, but noted that he is only one of many who are working day in and day out to help everyone in their time of need.

“I try to be a strong leader. I try to lead with strength and do whatever I can do, but there are times when I don’t know how they do it,” said Button. “But I guess they are able to do it, seeing things like this going on around them, knowing they are not alone.”

Button said the outpouring of support was almost indescribable.

“It’s overwhelming to tell you the truth, and I don’t know if I have the words to express the way I really felt about it. When you see it and people wanting to help, as I continue to say, it’s a very long road that residents are going to have to continue to go down, and we’re going to go down this road with each other, and it seems like we are not alone. People around the province and across the country have been so involved in this and so willing to want to help and try to do what they can, and to put a concert off like this, in a period of time where you see this kind of money that was raised, it’s simply unbelievable.”

Jaymie White, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wreckhouse Weekly News