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Fort Mac teachers thankful once again

October 25, 2016 Cory Hare, ATA News Managing Editor

Money comes through to help replace classroom resources

Teachers in Fort McMurray are once again expressing gratitude for the generosity they’ve experienced following last May’s devastating fire.

Last month teachers who lost classroom resources to smoke damage were able to receive preloaded Mastercards valued at $600, thanks to a Red Cross community partnership grant accessed by ATA Local No. 48.

“The teachers who came to get the Mastercards that night were so appreciative,” said local president Nancy Ball. “They knew how they were going to use that money to get materials, get their resources replaced, so it was pretty emotional, pretty exciting for them.”

No schools were destroyed by the May 3 fire that ruined 2,400 structures in Fort McMurray (nearly 10 per cent of the city), but smoke damage was widespread and three school buildings remain closed as remediation efforts continue.

About 600 teachers received a $600 card. The local had a wall of thanks set up at the schools where the cards were being distributed. By the end of the three evenings, several long sheets of paper were covered in poignant messages of thanks.

Fort McMurray teachers who recently received funding to help replace classroom materials filled entire walls with messages of thanks.

“We’re full of gratitude, that’s for sure,” Ball said.

The fire drew donations totalling $165 million to the Canadian Red Cross from individuals and organizations from across the country. Federal and provincial matching boosted the number to $299 million, said Jenn McManus, vice-president of Red Cross for Alberta and the Northwest Territories.

Included in those totals is $51,900 donated by various ATA locals and teachers’ convention associations as well as $100,000 donated by the provincial ATA. The federal and provincial governments each provided $51,900 in matching funds, for a grand total of $255,700.

That money is part of the overall total of $299 million, which has been allocated to four different streams, based on the Red Cross’s previous experience with natural disasters, McManus said. That breakdown is as follows: individuals and families ($196 million), community groups ($50 million), small businesses ($30 million), community resilience and disaster preparedness ($12 million).

(The remaining $11 million is accounted for by the Red Cross’s policy of assigning five per cent of the donated funds — $165 million — to fundraising costs associated with the relief effort and 1.5 per cent to ensuring the organization is prepared to respond to future disasters).

“Our priority in recovery at the National Red Cross Society is at the household level because, from experience, we know that the direct impact of the household is the most poignant,” McManus said.

McManus noted that the Fort McMurray fire is the third significant disaster in Alberta since 2011, when parts of Slave Lake were destroyed by a wildfire. In 2013, floods hit southern Alberta.

The organization received $6.9 million for Slave Lake and $45 million for the floods. By comparison, the $299 million raised for the Wood Buffalo area will enable the organization to do more work toward building long-term preparedness and resiliency over the years to come, McManus said.

“Because of the generosity of Canadians and Albertans to the Canadian Red Cross, we have the resources to provide a wider scope throughout the recovery process in a collaborative effort with our partners.”

The Fort McMurray disaster produced some unique challenges for those charged with administering relief, McManus said. The mass evacuation of 90,000 people, who were forced to remain away from the community for a month — a longer-than-usual period — created higher levels of stress within households. Also, the Red Cross had to provide aid to individuals who had scattered all across the country. Alberta’s economic downturn and the diversity of the Fort McMurray community also presented challenges.

McManus noted that donations received for Fort McMurray relief are earmarked and held in trust, and will not be reallocated to any other initiatives. She hopes and expects that her organization will maintain a presence in the Wood Buffalo area for years to come. Recovery efforts will continue for the next few years then gradually wane, but she hopes that work to increase resiliency and preparedness will continue for at least a decade.

“I just want to convey a deep and heartfelt thank you to the Alberta Teachers’ Association for supporting us because this really does allow us to work face-to-face with community members through what is a really challenging time — lots of complexities around personal decisions, household decisions,” McManus said. ❚


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