Williams Lake evacuees, both people and animals, find no shortage of help in Kamloops

Deb Samborski, left, and Jeanette Cheung aren't letting an evacuation of their town bring them down. They share a laugh outside of Kamloops's Sandman Centre which is an Emergency Social Services centre for wildfire evacuees, Wednesday, July 19, 2017.

KAMLOOPS - Deb Samborski says her dog may never want to return home to Williams Lake after being "spoiled" for days by volunteers at the Kamloops evacuation centre.

It’s hard for her to accept all the help volunteers are offering at the Sandman Centre – she’s never been in a vulnerable position like this before.

“I couldn’t ask for more welcoming people,” Samborski says. “I’ve never been on the receiving end. Holy crap, it brings me to tears just thinking about it.”

Samborski and the rest of the Williams Lake residents were put on evacuation order around 6 p.m. July 15, and for now she’s calling her cot at the Sandman Centre her temporary home.

“You’ve got to damn near be a pole vaulter to get out of those suckers,” Samborski jokes.

But she’s not complaining, instead she’s overwhelmed by the outpouring of generosity volunteers have been showing her over the past few days.

“I don’t have words to describe it,” she says. “I need arms a mile long to hug them all.”

Samborski grabbed her dog and packed she could when they got the evacuation order, including her mom’s priceless china, some antique snowshoes and a horse collar mirror – things that may seem strange, but things Samborski knew were irreplaceable. As far as she knows, no structures have been lost in Williams Lake and her house is still in good shape. 

Evacuee Janette Cheung said the hardest part about leaving Williams Lake was knowing members of her family were staying behind to fight the fires.

Four Paws Food Bank volunteer Sam cuddles with one of the many cats they're taking care of at the Sandman Centre, Wednesday, July 19, 2017.
Four Paws Food Bank volunteer Sam cuddles with one of the many cats they're taking care of at the Sandman Centre, Wednesday, July 19, 2017.

“The only thing that brought tears to me was I had to leave my son and my grandson firefighting,” Cheung says.

Cheung and her husband, who own a restaurant in Williams Lake, are much like Samborski – they were reluctant to be helped.

“We didn’t want to come down here and take up a bed,” she says.

Cheung says they have been moved by the generosity of the people of Kamloops, and are calling their stay here a “holiday” because of how well they’ve been treated.

Samborski says she hopes the devastation across the province never happens again, but if anything ever happened to Kamloops, she hopes people will show the same generosity shown her in such an uncertain time.

“A job excellently well done,” she says. “You’ve got to be so proud of your people here.”

Samborski’s dog is one of about 150 other animals being kept outside the Sandman Centre and being cared for by the volunteers at Four Paws Food Bank.

One of those volunteers is Hisako Johnson, an evacuee from the 100 Mile House area. From what she understands, her home is still standing, but it’s not quite safe to go back to her community yet.

Johnson found she had some time on her hands as an evacuee, and decided to start volunteering to help out with the dozens of animals there. She’s astounded by the number of people volunteering and donating.

Ned is one of the evacuated pups being looked after by Four Paws Food Bank, Wednesday, July 19, 2017.
Ned is one of the evacuated pups being looked after by Four Paws Food Bank, Wednesday, July 19, 2017.

“Everybody’s been so good and they keep coming and coming,” Johnson says.

Jocelyn Sweetnam, also with Four Paws Food Bank, says they’ve had such a huge turnout of volunteers they’ve actually had to turn people away.

“It’s been amazing,” Sweetnam says. “We’ve been very, very well-staffed.”

She says almost immediately after they posted a request for donations of towels and leashes on social media, staff were flooded with people dropping off what they could.

“The people of Kamloops have been amazing," she says.

Four Paws is focusing on emergent care, but they have a long-term focus as well, Sweetnam says. When evacuees are able to return home, like the residents of Cache Creek yesterday, July 18, they may not be able to start work right away or have access to stores. She says the donated items will be sent home with the evacuees so they have the supplies they need.

Right now the biggest call for donations at Four Paws is dog poop bags, small cat harnesses and collars, and dog leashes. Their location is at the Sandman Centre, down the outside stairs near Riverside Park.

To keep up with what donations or volunteer services are needed with Four Paws, go here.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ashley Legassic or call 250-319-7494 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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