Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Calgary Flood: Helping Hands in Bowness

Jun 25 2013

I have always been impressed by the information segments that come on BYUtv or the Mormon Channel between sessions of General Conference where they highlight the volunteer efforts of LDS members who show up in droves wearing yellow "Mormom Helping Hands" bibs. I was inspired when I saw photos last year of my younger brother and my sister-in-law wearing the bibs to help shovel sand somewhere on the Atlantic coast after Hurricane Sandy. I couldn't really imagine what kind of opportunity we might have to give similar service here in Calgary. We have no earthquakes and we are so far from the typical tornado and hurricane territories, with a massive moutain range shielding us from the ocean waves. Our city seemed like the kind of place people would come to when seeking refuge from these natural calamities. Well, we are not immune to disaster.



Fortunately, we are part of a worldwide church that has lots of experience coordinating disaster relief. Two days after the flood we heard in our church meetings that the LDS members in Cochrane (a town that has essentially grown into a suburb of Calgary) stepped up and organized a food drive and relief effort for the people of the Siksika tribe who live on the reserve in Morley. With the city overwhelmed with the larger-scale aspects of the disaster, efforts like this to take care of the smaller communities was key. Our congregation was asked to help assemble hygiene kits to supply to Morley and other affected communities. A dentist went to his office and brought back enough toothpaste and toothbrushes to supply 500 kits.

In another church meeting I learned that 1000 yellow bibs were on their way to us, accompanied by just as many cleaning kits. I admit that I was excited at the prospect of donning the bib and getting out there to help. On Tuesday I was still working from home, so I took the afternoon off to volunteer. We were sent down to Bowness.



I often ride my bike to work, and I cross the Bow River in the community of Bowness. I used to always ride down a street called Bow Crescent, where the north-side houses back onto the Bow River. I have always thought how beautiful it would be to have the river in your backyard. I recognized that these homeowners had to compromise in some ways, because they also have freight trains running through their community. And then there is always the chance the river could flood out your back yard. I have been to Bowness Park a lot to throw rocks and I have noticed how much the water level can very; however, I admit that I had never imagined that the river could rise so high as it did.



100 of us showed up near Bow Crescent with our bibs and our tools and we went to work. We were just standing on the street corner waiting for the rest of group when a woman came to us and asked if we were there to help. She was coordinating the effort for her apartment complex and they needed volunteers. This wasn't the address that we had been sent to, but we weren't about to say no. We loaded up a truck with the material that had been removed from the basement units and eventually made our way down the street, mostly helping to take the piles of refuse on driveways and load them into the garbage bins that were slowing making their way into the chaos. I normally just fly past these homes on my bike without looking too closely. Now I wonder if I will be able to find the homes where I helped out when I next go down those streets.

The next evening, R invited her sister J to go to Bowness and continue the effort. J had also been inspired by the stories of the yellow bibs and wanted to do her part to help. The most poignant moment for them was when they saw an intricate wooden doll house perched atop a pile of construction rubbish -- underscoring the personal loss sustained by these families.



I find myself possessed of two emotions: sadness and pride. I am sad for all the loss and heartache that people are going through. At the same time, I am proud of all the people that have been so willing to help others. Because our house was not affected, I feel a bit like a spectator. However, getting down in the mud and helping out makes it much more real, more personal. It also inspires me to do more.

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