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Red Cross offering back to school supports for all families in need

Canadian Red Cross / WEB

With the start of school less than a week away one of the emerging needs for families affected by the wildfire is for assistance with back-to-school supplies, food, and clothing.

“We are seeing families come and share with us their stories of recovery, where their financial stresses are, and we’re meeting one-on-one, privately and confidentially with families to hear how the Red Cross can support them as we move in to September,” said Jenn McManus, the Canadian Red Cross Vice President in Alberta and the Northwest Territories.

Many of those families are telling their case workers that preparing for back-to-school is presenting challenges, McManus said, and they’re working to meet the emerging need presented by this hurdle now.

“Return to school is a stressful time financially for a good portion of families and so we’re here to meet with families one-on-one and hear about where are their emerging needs and their financial realities for back-to-school,” she said.

They’re encouraging people who have not already done so who are facing challenges with the resumption of classes on Tuesday to get in touch with the Red Cross. You can book an appointment by calling 1-888-553-5505. Improvements have been made to the booking system and wait times are shorter than the three weeks some families were experiencing in early August.

“The Canadian Red Cross has been working very, very diligently with local residents, hearing stories, liaising and coordinating with the local recovery team as well as Mayor and Council and other stakeholders in the community and it’s been a busy four months,” said McManus. “We thank everybody for their patience while we had some wait times and some advanced planning required for booking appointments.”

Emergency meetings are now being accepted as walk-ins at the Hardin Street location and McManus said the Red Cross is close to securing a second location for its operations here in Fort McMurray.

For back-to-school, supports are available for in-classroom and learning supplies, clothing, food, and recreational activities as well as any equipment that may be affiliated with recreation activities.

There are no lump sum payments for back to school nor is there a guarantee of funding for all school-age children but there is support available on a case-by-case basis provided confidentially to the people who need it in the community.

The funding support will not end with the start of school but will be available for those who need it for as long as it is needed.

Support for those still out of town

McManus said that with the start of school many families are making their return to the community, especially as it coincides with the re-entry of 439 homes in Abasand and Beacon Hill.

“We’ve had the return to school on our planning for our team on the ground in Fort McMurray and, indeed, across the province because we know not all families are back in the RMWB and we still have families that are outside the province of Alberta and across Canada,” she said.

But not all people have the means to make the journey on their own and McManus said it can also take a long time to make the decision to return to the community, “based on complexity of their lives and finding out further information about livelihood, employment, insurance, a whole matrix of drivers go into that decision.”

That is why the Red Cross will continue to provide travel assistance for people making their way back to Fort McMurray for the first time since the evacuation until the end of December.