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Donate B.C. wildfire relief goods only to agencies prepared to handle them

Staff at the Kamloops Food Bank are equipped to handle food donations for B.C. wildfire evacuees, the emergency reception centre at TRU is not.
July 13, 2017 - 2:39 PM

Calls from people offering donations of food, water, clothing and volunteer hands are rolling in, but before you show up at an emergency reception centre officials are asking you check online first to see if it's needed.

People are eager to help evacuees affected by the B.C. wildfires, but dropping off a truckload of items in places — like the emergency reception centre at Thompson Rivers University — that aren't set up to accept them can pose problems.

"People are so generous, and they just want to give but it doesn't always match the need. Then the stuff just sits and that's not a good use of that generosity," Debbie Sell with the Thompson-Nicola Regional District says.

The problem with donations of things like clothing is having an abundance of items and then lacking the manpower to sort, move and distribute them.

"There are different ways people can donate and the easiest and most simple way of doing that is with cash. Then (officials) can actually buy the things that people need," Sell says.

If the goods aren't sorted and handed out in time, the items can go to waste.

"At the provincial level, officials with experience in dealing with these emergencies say there are cases where donations have been provided and haven't been used. They are just sitting in storage," she says.

In an attempt to connect eager volunteers, people offering space or anyone offering donations to evacuees, the Regional District set up two Facebook pages: one for anyone offering donations, or lodging and another for anyone looking to volunteer.

Sell says the real difficulty with donated goods is linking people who want to help with those who need help, but the connections are already starting to happen through the social media pages. Earlier this week, Sell said the fastest and easiest way to help is by donating to the Canadian Red Cross.

For anyone determined to donate foodstuffs, the Kamloops Food Bank is accepting donations from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the loading bay at 171 Wilson St. Evacuees can pick up food from the reception desk during those hours.

Wes Graham with the Kamloops Food Bank knows what it takes to organize bulk donations of food items.

Moving, receiving and distributing food products is what they do and Graham says they have ten workers, seven full-time and three part-time, to run the food bank.

Clients take numbers and sit patiently in the full waiting room to line up for groceries at the bustling Kamloops Food Bank today, July 13. It seems busy, but Graham says even with the added donations for wildfire evacuees, this is business as usual.

Graham says volunteers have been pouring in and staff have worked a few extra hours over the last week or so.

"It can be difficult to organize. But everyone right now, at this point in time, is looking to help," Graham says.

He says cash can be easier to handle, but when immediate needs arise, it's nice to have product on hand.

Donations of clothing is being directed to the Salvation Army at 533 Tranquille Rd.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Kim Anderson or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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