“I am exhausted and I don’t want my kids to see me cry,” the single dad with two young children was holding back the tears when he was approached by child protection worker Nicole Auger in the Kamloops evacuation centre, asking how she could help.
The evacuation centre was set up in early July for people forced out of their homes in nearby communities by the wildfires.
“I don’t know what to do, I just need someone to talk to,” the dad continued. The family had just been evacuated from their home in Cache Creek and was feeling isolated and lonely. As with many parents, he was concerned about his daughter’s exposure to smoke from the wildfires since she was recovering from illness. While Auger spoke to him, other Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) staff brought his kids to a nearby tent and gave them colouring books, crayons, a stuffed animal and some snacks to help pass the time.
The man told Auger that all he wanted was to be with family on Vancouver Island. She quickly arranged for bus tickets and asked if there was anything else he needed. The man replied that a bag would be helpful to carry all of the donations he and his children had received from resources in the evacuation centre.
It was a Sunday, but Jacqueline Judd, MCFD’s acting director of operations in Kamloops, called her office manager at home who quickly showed up at the evacuation centre with backpacks for the family. Beyond thankful, the man was overcome with emotion.
Another family of seven showed up exhausted at the evacuation centre with just a tent and the clothes on their backs after fleeing their home in Williams Lake. Auger and other MCFD staff helped supply them with sleeping bags, air mattresses and clothing, then directed them to additional community resources.
“Everyone we’ve approached and helped is incredibly appreciative and receptive,” said Judd. “About 20 staff from our office, including Child and Youth Mental Health workers, are providing round-the-clock assistance to families at the MCFD tent in the evacuation centre, while also managing their regular workloads,” continued Judd. Before the centre was established acting team leader Rob Earl took a lead role connecting with resources and community agencies like the Red Cross.
In addition, most Kamloops staff on their way to and from home or the evacuation centre have offered rides to people who are exhausted and overwhelmed in the summer heat. Judd explained that many people were evacuated separately from family members and are looking for their loved ones, which often adds to their distress.
“Our staff are doing everything they can, offering compassion and a child-friendly environment in the midst of chaos,” added Judd. “MCFD workers have the skill set to switch gears and support children and families by just being part of the community during a time of need.”
Ministry staff are also on site at evacuation centres in Cloverdale and Prince George. If your family is affected by the wildfire evacuations and you need to connect with the ministry – or if your nearest MCFD office is closed – call toll-free, 1 877 387-7027 for assistance.