The best thing you can do for victims of the Fort McMurray wildfire is to listen

– Guest Blog by Francesca Dobbyn, Executive Director of United Way of Bruce Grey

United Way of Bruce Grey played an essential role in supporting residents after the Goderich Tornado and victims of the Owen Sound fires, which affected 23 people, including six families who did not have home insurance.


Listen. It is the single most important thing you can do in supporting someone who has gone through, or is going through a fire or other major loss of personal property.

We want to act. We feel the need to do something, anything, to ease the pain that is so obvious. But the best thing to do is just listen.

People will repeat their story over and over; others will not want to talk about it at all. Let them lead, there is no right way to survive a disaster, there is also no wrong way.

We are forever grateful for the volunteers of Victim Services Grey Bruce Perth, and Victim Services throughout the province, and the country, who are trained listening experts. They know when listening is needed, and when action is needed. Reach out to those experts in your community and let them take the lead. They will let you know what actions are needed, what resources exist, then you can go and DO. This is what we all feel, that compulsive need to just DO something, and most of the time, there is nothing to do.

Please do NOT gather STUFF, there is no need for stuff. There are lots of formal places those helping can access stuff, and if there is a need beyond those resources, then they’ll ask the community. If you have stuff and want to donate, have a garage sale, Facebook sale, clothing trade party, and donate the proceeds. Money is the best thing to donate. If you cannot donate money, use your stuff to create money, which you can donate.

Donating funds supports the recovery as much as it enables the receiving organization to purchase what is needed. That corner coffee shop that is the staging area is going to need to be paid for their out of pocket expenses. By donating funds you ensure they can continue to employ local people. They go to department store in town, for blankets and other needs, so they can get paid.

It’s heart breaking to watch and you may have to turn off the TV, take a break, go for a walk, hold on to your family, and appreciate what you have. There are people who will want to live every moment as it happens, and those who want to turn their back; both responses are the right responses.

I’ve talked to people who’ve been through tornados, fires and floods, and the stories all follow a similar pattern: a sense that something is weird that is followed by a realization that something is horribly wrong. That in the moment of coping, fight or flight, full of adrenaline and panic. It is only in the aftermath do we process the ‘what might have happened’ and we’re terrified.

So first listen, just let people talk. Let them lead with what they need. Access the appropriate supports and recognize your own limitations and what you can cope with.

Together we are stronger.
Francesca Dobbyn
Executive Director
United Way of Bruce Grey

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