Approximately 30,000 people have been ordered to evacuate their homes in response to wildfires access the province as of Aug. 20, and about 500 wildfire evacuees are staying in Kamloops (Tḱemlúps), with additional evacuees in Sun Peaks and other parts of the Interior.
With an outpouring of support from people in the region who are not directly affected, some organizations and governments have released statements clarifying what is helpful (or not) right now.
Here’s a summary of what The Wren has learned from these statements and contact with local organizations.
Can I volunteer to support wildfire evacuees?
“Right now, we’re just trying to get everybody settled,” Natasha Hartson, the City of Kamloops’ community and emergency supports supervisor told The Wren.
So while Kamloops’ Emergency Support Services (ESS) appreciates people wanting to help, they are focused on helping wildfire evacuees and don’t have capacity to talk to interested volunteers.
Organizations like Kamloops’ ESS, Salmon Arm’s ESS, the SPCA and United Way do rely on volunteers to support their efforts.
More than 100 volunteers are trained to work at the Kamloops ESS, which is set up at the McArthur Island Sport and Event Centre. But many of these organizations have intake processes to ensure that volunteers are screened, receive appropriate training and can support where and when needed.
Meantime, Hartson encourages people to offer their help to local charities and social agencies.
Local governments and First Nations communities will start to develop resiliency centres to support individuals as they start to return home, Hartson added, so stay tuned for more information on how to help.
Can I donate items and food to wildfire evacuees?
“We know people in B.C. and across the country are concerned for those affected by the many current wildfires in our province and want to find a way to help communities recover,” a representative for B.C.’s Ministry of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness told The Wren in an email.
“First Nations communities, local authorities and evacuation centres may not be able to accept or manage material donations from members of the public or businesses,” as they are busy helping wildfire evacuees, they added.
Some organizations are accepting food and other items, but do some research before donating. While fresh food may seem like a great idea, food donations require storage and distribution plans. In some cases, service providers have reported receiving soiled clothes that add to the workload of already strained volunteers.
Find out what an organization or community needs before dropping items off. For instance, Splatsin is currently accepting donations of non-perishable food items and sleeping supplies like cots and blankets to support evacuees staying there. They are not accepting clothing donations.
Tḱemlúps Arbour is also hosting evacuees, but has different needs. “Chief and Council express much gratitude for all those who want to donate and volunteer to support those displaced from wildfires,” they said in an Aug. 21 statement, adding that they are not currently taking financial or physical donations.
So what’s the best way to support wildfire evacuees?
“The two most helpful, and gratefully accepted items will always be TIME and FUNDS (directly donated to official organizers!),” writes Kamloops Area Fire Watch admin Jolene Tinebra. “There are highly experienced volunteer coordinators and not-for-profit leaders in our amazing community who are able to turn your ‘dime’ into a dollar and there is always enough work to keep many hands busy.”
During emergencies grassroots efforts do emerge. So while Tḱemlúps put a statement out on that they are not accepting donations, some people supporting evacuees at the Tḱemlúps Arbour are asking for donations of some items like blankets.
Similarly, volunteers at the Ts̓ellétkwe Lodge, at Rayleigh Evacuation Centre, are currently in need of clothing hangers and a few other items, according to a Facebook post.
In cases of conflicting information, it’s best to connect with people on the ground before donating.
Where should I send money?
“Unless a community has asked for specific goods, British Columbians who wish to help are asked to make a monetary donation to trusted organizations, which are supporting the Province and local authorities in providing assistance to those affected by the wildfires,” the ministry of emergency management told The Wren. They point to Canada Helps as a way to find verified charities responding to the current wildfire situation.
Some people have expressed skepticism about where large nonprofit organizations spend their money. Charities are required to provide audited financial statements, which are often posted to their websites. United Way BC publishes its annual financial statements and so does the Canadian Red Cross.
Callouts for mutual aid or “self-help” through social media posts and crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe can directly support families who have lost their homes, such as the August family in Squilax te Secwepemculewc. Though these social media posts or crowdfunding appeals are not necessarily verified, research shows that during times of crisis, most people behave altruistically. These grassroots efforts also play a particularly important role in marginalized communities.
While critical for recipients, mutual aid can be downplayed by official organizations because it is by nature hard to track, according to researchers. When in doubt, contact the organizer for more information.
“Unfortunately, there are some people who may try to take advantage of those impacted by a disaster through fraudulent tactics,” the Canadian Red Cross states on its website. “The Canadian Red Cross will never ask for your banking information, social insurance number or credit card number in order to register.”
Some GoFundMe’s have also been reported as fakes, according to Jilly Laviolette, an admin for the volunteer-run B.C. Wildfire Updates Facebook page (which is not tied to the BC Wildfire Service). If the GoFundMe is tied to an individual rather than a known organization, look for information updates and photos/videos or contact the organizer directly. Additionally, GoFundMe has a ‘giving guarantee,’ which protects donors in the event of fraud.
The ministry for emergency preparedness also provided some tips for donating safely. Avoid cash or wire transfers and make sure the recipient is an organization, not an individual. If donating online, look for secure websites. Beware of high-pressure tactics and ask for more information if you’re unsure. “A legitimate charity will still be there tomorrow. Feel free to take the information and sleep on it,” the ministry recommends.
If you have concerns about the activities of a charitable organization, call the Canada Revenue Agency: 1-877- 442-2899.
Want to help a specific community, organization or cause? Here’s what they need (or don’t need)
Tḱemlúps te Secwépemc: While the nation is hosting evacuees, Tḱemlúps is not currently taking financial or physical donations.
Skwlax te Secwepmec: Chief and Council are requesting donations of gift cards for Skwlax members to purchase clothes, shoes and personal items in addition to gas cards and entertainment certificates. Contact Jacqueline Manuel firstname.lastname@example.org or text or call 250-319-8479.
Splatsin te Secwepemc: Accepting donations of food, sleeping items and personal hygiene products.
BC Wildfire: BC Wildfire Service crews and personnel can’t accept monetary gifts or other donations. For services like food and shelter, BC Wildfire has contractors who ensure wildfire crews get what they need, when they need it. If you would like to donate, they suggest contributing to the Canadian Red Cross.
You can also help by reporting smoke, flames or irresponsible behaviour that could trigger a wildfire, such as a campfire during a fire ban. Call 1-800-663-5555 or *5555 on your cell.
Applications to become a firefighter with the BC Wildfire Service for the 2023 season are now closed but you can find out more.
Kamloops ESS: Not currently accepting donations. They are encouraging residents to donate time and money to local charities. People interested in volunteering can register in advance.
Thompson-Nicola Regional District: While the regional district is supporting emergency efforts, they cannot accept monetary or material donations and are directing people to support other charities.
Canadian Red Cross: To support people impacted by B.C. wildfires, you can make a financial donation online at redcross.ca, or by calling 1-800-418-1111.
Kamloops Mamas for Mamas: The charity is accepting donations of new items at 1745 Dolphin Ave. in Kelowna. People wanting to volunteer can fill out an intake form. Financial donations are also welcome.
Shuswap Community Foundation: The nonprofit has an Emergency Response Fund for people affected by the Bush Creek East wildfire. You can also send an e-transfer to: email@example.com with a memo “SCF Emergency Response Fund” or find more information here.
Four Paws Foodbank Foundation: Currently welcoming donations of treats and toys. Drop off locations include Total Pets, Canyon Ridge Studio, PetSmart and Bone and Biscuit. For more information, contact Four Paws via Facebook Messenger or email at fourpawsfoodbank@gmail. They also gladly accept financial donations via CanadaHelps, PayPal Giving Fund or, e-transfer to firstname.lastname@example.org
Four Paws also has a specific fund set up to purchase feed for chickens, goats, sheep and pigs via an account with The Horse Barn named “Four Paws Wildfire.” Their phone number is (250) 374-3511 and their address is 517 Mt. Paul Way, Kamloops, BC V2H 1A9.
Kamloops BC SPCA: Support for evacuees with pets is available at McArthur Island. They are in need of certain items like cat litter pans and pet food but it’s best to check before dropping items off. Call 1-855-622-7722 or visit the Kamloops Animal Centre at 2816 Tranquille Rd. If you are interested in volunteering with the BC SPCA, email email@example.com to be connected with the appropriate centres and programs.
Canadian Disaster Animal Response Team: This volunteer-run service is asking for donations.
Animal Lifeline Emergency Response Team (ALERT): The volunteer-run organization is asking for donations to support domestic animals and livestock displaced by the wildfires. You can also e-transfer firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you know of any organizations, families or communities that need help, email us at email@example.com
So do we. That’s why we spend more time, more money and place more care into reporting each story. You’ve told us through reader surveys you want to read local journalism that goes beyond press releases and problems. You want community reporting that explains, connects and uplifts.
“The Wren’s news is refreshing, not depressing, reporting info that is negative and hurtful. It encourages positive thought, not amplifying prejudice and brutality,” wrote one reader.
This kind of reporting is made possible thanks to financial contributions, big and small, from readers like you. Together, these contributions help ensure The Wren’s reporters and contributors are paid fairly and their in-depth reporting remains freely accessible to everyone.
Will you invest in the future of in-depth community news, by and for the people of Kamloops (T’kemlúps)?
If you've read this far, you likely value in-depth community journalism.