Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc is looking after many people who have been displaced by wildfires, with its emergency reception centre remaining busy.
Chief Rosanne Casimir noted the band has been seeing fire evacuees from Lytton and the nearby Skeetchestn Indian Band, members of the latter leaving their reserve because of Sparks Lake wildfire evacuation orders.
Casimir said Tk’emlúps has counsellors on site for evacuees, along with meal services. While some people are staying overnight, many more come for at least a visit. There are also washrooms and showers available and drummers have been on site to entertain evacuees so no one feels alone, Casimir noted.
She said all evacuees must first register at the McArthur Island Sport and Event Centre’s emergency reception centre before coming to stay at the Tk’emlups site, so their loved ones can find them.
Officials recommend fire evacuees re-register if they move to different emergency reception sites. Evacuees can register for Emergency Support Services by calling, toll-free, 1-800-585-9559.
“We know that many have come who basically had to jump in their vehicle and drive and leave everything behind,” Casimir said.
She said there has been an abundance of people who have reached out to the band, looking to help wildfire evacuees, noting Moccasin Square Gardens is filled with donated items thanks to that generosity.
Tk’emlúps emergency operations manager Dianne Kehler said the band has been feeding up to 300 people per day and lodging close to 100.
She said all people from any fire evacuation are welcome to attend the site. For those wishing to donate to the cause, Visa, fuel and cellphone gift cards comprise the highest demand. Also needed are first-aid kits.
“We’re a busy centre, but we’re really helping a lot of people,” Kehler said.
Those who stop in to donate an item will often stay and volunteer, she said, noting the kindness isn’t limited to locals.
“People have been coming far and wide,” she said.
Anyone looking to donate items should call ahead of time at 250-826-3884 to ensure donations are properly co-ordinated.
A woman named Beverley, who did not wish to give her last name, could be found at the powwow arbour on Wednesday (July 7), looking to drop off a table and chairs for wildfire evacuees.
It was the Vernon woman’s third such trip to the emergency reception centre with donated items, having stopped in twice before with toys and clothing.
“I just feel so bad for people who lost everything,” said Beverley, who is originally from Tlaz’tem Nation in the Fort St. James area.
People both young and old have been chipping in.
Zahra Amor, a 15-year-old Valleyview secondary student, said she couldn’t enjoy her summer break knowing others were not after seeing photos of a fire-razed Lytton on the news.
“I felt the least we could do was come help,” Zahra said.
She could be found at Moccasin Square Gardens on Wednesday, sorting donations after having searched for volunteering efforts online.
Fresh produce part of supplies for wildfire evacuees
In addition to the food donations, the Tk’emlups band is also utilizing fresh produce from a food sovereignty program between its Sk’elep School and Q’wemtsin Health Society (QHS) to feed wildfire evacuees from around the province.
The food security program was started two years ago by QHS dietician Laura Kalina. Her idea was brought to Sk’elep principal Arlene Dixon, who was immediately committed to the goal of teaching students about the importance of growing local food.
“Sk’elep students have really enjoyed the experience of planting, tending and harvesting the crops,” Dixon said in a press release. “Culturally, food is the centre of our family and community relationships, so it is extra special that the harvest from our gardens is feeding our neighbours and friends in a time of stress and need.”
The fire that virtually destroyed Lytton left some 1,000 residents displaced and scattered between emergency reception centres in places such as Kamloops, Merritt, Kelowna and Chilliwack.