by Gloria Welton
I have heard it said that because of the pandemic we were separated but hurricane Fiona brought us together.
Afton Community Centre in New Dominion is known as the hub of the surrounding communities, and this was certainly the case for relief and support after the hurricane hit PEI.
The centre is one of five properties maintained by the Rural Municipality of West River, which includes five communities connected by the West River and its watershed. There are two paid staff at the centre: an administrator and a sanitation worker. Students are also able to work there in the summer to gain experience.
Immediately after the storm, those in need were able to access shelter, water, food, and Internet, along with a place to meet and talk with neighbours and see how everyone was doing. There was even a play station for the children and a screen set up for movies.
Also, of great importance was a quiet space for people to go and talk one-on-one to deal with the trauma they had experienced. Those wanting to access the Internet to connect with loved ones were offered help if the Internet or devices were troublesome. People also came in who were worried about their work or lack of work and some guidance was offered.
People helping people resulted in miracles upon miracles realized at the centre as each hour and day went by. We were all devasted by either damaged property, lack of power resulting in health being compromised and food loss, and limited means of communication. However, people went out of their way to help each other by volunteering, bringing baked goods and other food items, telling others about the support offered, and listening when tears were seen in people’s eyes.
It was the kindness that struck me most when I was there. People were just so happy to help, appreciative of what was offered, sharing ideas and expertise that would ease the load, and so much more.
Right from the beginning food was offered at the centre in the form of a continental breakfast, soup and sandwiches for lunch and dinner, and snacks throughout the day. Also, there was a food bank for people to take home non-perishables.
However, mid-week it was decided a hot meal would be served for suppers. Key people came together to offer their expertise in planning, organizing, and implementing hot meals for a crowd. Each hot meal offered brought from 125 to over 300 people who sat down to eat at the centre or took the meal home.
Because of the numbers of people that came, some meal times ran low on food but the kitchen staff quickly switched to soup and sandwich mode and no one went without an offer of some type of food.
It took an army of people to plan the meals, buy the groceries, donate food, and schedule the right number of volunteers to run the kitchen and the administration of the centre. We had just enough of what was needed at the just the right times. This reminds me of the scripture in James 1:17 (NIV) that says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights.”
I witnessed a true community spirit as everyone who entered the centre was welcomed and asked how they could be helped. It brought tears to my eyes when I even saw volunteers go out to the parking lot to ask people in cars if they were hungry or needed help of any sort. And when people such as powerline or firetruck workers came into the centre, all attention was on them to offer what they needed to help ease their day.
There are so many benefits of volunteering such as getting to know others, learning skills, building awareness, listing the experience on a resumé, and generating references that can be used when applying for work or scholarships. But the true benefit is the rewards of helping and watching incredible things happen before your eyes.
Mayor Helen Smith-MacPhail of the Rural Municipality of West River could not say enough about the help from members of the municipality council, community volunteers, and generous donations that came through the door.
The PEI Emergency Measures Organization (EMO) through the Municipal Government Act mandates municipalities to have an approved Municipal Emergency Management Program in place. Each municipality is to establish and maintain a municipal emergency measures organization by passing a bylaw, appointing a coordinator, and prescribing duties that include the preparation and co-ordination of emergency measures plans and appointing a committee to advise on the development of emergency measures plans.
“We have the EMO mandate in place, which includes a warming centre for times of need at Afton Community Centre, which was put into motion immediately after hurricane Fiona hit,” says Helen. “What took place here was beyond the criteria of a warming centre. It takes a lot to work that out but once you get the right people, especially those with expertise in the kitchen, that leads the way.
“Before we amalgamated, we were five separated small communities that all had their own councils, but now we have a larger geographical area and leadership under one structure. This coming together means more people to draw from who can be involved.
“After the hurricane, people came from all our communities to volunteer, and the centre was the hub. That is why we had such an impact on those in need. It really showed the importance of our five communities working as one. And during this time, every bit of help was needed to get through the aftermath of the storm.”