'Mobilizing as quickly as we can'

When you're rushing out of your community to escape a wildfire, there isn't a lot of time to pack a bag or figure out where you'll lay your head.

Following the evacuation of Churchill Falls on Wednesday, June 19, many evacuees were stuck trying to find accommodation and supplies in Happy Valley-Goose Bay – and residents of that community were quick to rally together and help.

Residents began sharing all available lodgings and resources through social media, with some residents offering up their campers and opening up their homes to displaced Churchill Falls residents.

Mobilizing quickly

Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation was quick to offer accommodations at a former Christian Youth camp to any evacuees needing a place to stay.

The camp is located about 15 minutes from Goose Bay on Gosling Lake and has a large gathering building with a kitchen, washroom facilities and three cabins, two of which have 16 bunk beds in each.

Kristin Renee, the treatment team lead for the Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation, who helped organize the camp accommodation and shared it on social media, explained that getting supplies together was no easy feat.

“Personally, I’ve found it difficult because we weren’t prepared and we only have the two grocery stores and now we have like an extra town – it was so late last night, it was one o’clock in the morning when I got the call,” she said.

“We’re rounding things up, we’re mobilizing as quickly as we can. I have to give great credit to the staff that I work with, that at a moment's notice, they were like ‘OK, let’s go,’ and we had two staff to stay here last night with them to offer any supports or make sure that if the power went off down here they could get the generators going.”

Helping out

Goose Bay was also in the midst of a thunderstorm when the evacuees were on their way and, despite many areas having no power, the community still managed to rally together for those fleeing the fire.

Early Thursday morning, Renee went to grab groceries for the evacuees staying at the camp.

“I went to the Co-Op and personally bought groceries to bring down here for people because I know that’s the last thing you need to be worried about when you’re under threat of losing your home and you’re whole world has been shaken up, that how am I going to feed my little guys?” she said.

Seven evacuees are being housed at the camp, with one child and three pets: a dog, cat, and bunny.

The Central Labrador YMCA also partnered with the Town of Happy Valley-Goose Bay to offer temporary shelter to all the evacuees.

However, many Churchill Falls residents evacuated with their pets in tow and were seeking a pet-friendly environment.

“We’re pet friendly— you can’t really take pets into the Y and if you’re already displaced even to have to leave you’re pets with fostering, so it’s pet-friendly up here and we have games for kids,” explained Renee.

Clothes and supplies

For many residents of Churchill Falls, having to evacuate quickly meant leaving behind most of their belongings. A change of clothes and non-essential supplies were not a priority.

The Mokami Status of Women Council’s (MSWC) Women Centre and thrift store had considered this when deciding to close their doors to the general public and instead create a private space offering free clothing and supplies to the evacuees.

Stacey Hoffe, executive director of MSWC, explained that the core of what they do as the Mokami Status of Women Council is supporting the community.

“Churchill Falls are our neighbours and friends, so it was a really obvious and easy decision to think about what could we do to support them,” said Hoffe.

“We decided to close the store to the public just to provide a more safe, private space for people to come in, access support, grab some free clothing or whatever they needed – we are also giving away personal care items such as pads, tampons, shampoo, conditioner, diapers, baby wipes, you name it.”

They have been offering this service for two days and have seen at least 20 to 30 evacuees come through their doors.

MSWC will continue to provide the clothes and supplies for as long as needed, she added.

Communities coming together

By Thursday morning, 500 evacuees had checked in with officials in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

Both Renee and Hoffe expressed how heartwarming it is to see the community come together and go above and beyond to help their Churchill Falls neighbours.

“I think that it shows the real spirit of Labrador, and the residents here that it doesn’t matter where you’re from, we’re going to figure out a way to help you,” said Renee.

“Everybody kind of puts aside their own personal agendas and just does what needs to be done for a perfect stranger.”

Anasophie Vallee, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Telegram