Calgary's volunteer spirit shines in flood-ravaged neighbourhood (June 27, 2013)
Written by Lauren Krugel
Published by Edmonton Journal on Thursday, June 27, 2013
CALGARY - Most of the puppets were able to make it out in time.
But Shelley Carroll, with Green Fools Theatre, said a few got left behind in the company's flooded basement workshop, along with $20,000 worth of tools and raw materials.
"In the grand scheme of things, we feel blessed that we got away with as much as we did," Carroll said. "But now we have to find a new home."
It looks like the building in Calgary's hard-hit Erlton neighbourhood will have to be razed and the landlord has asked the Green Fools to vacate the space as quickly as possible.
"We're trying to get as much out as possible because the smell that's rapidly building up in there, it's kind of funky," said artistic director Dean Bareham.
Carroll and Bareham were to get married in the Green Fools space in August, but they've decided to postpone their wedding by a year to deal with the disaster.
The theatre company put out a call on its Facebook page for volunteers to help clear out the old church it had occupied for the past four years.
"We have an amazing network of people," Carroll said. "We have an awesome, awesome following. Facebook is our friend and everyone on it has come in droves to help us. We're so, so grateful."
On Wednesday, about a dozen volunteers carted out plastic bins of costumes, paintbrushes, set pieces, sewing machines, power tools and a hodge-podge of other items.
The bins were loaded onto a rented cube van, a minivan and a camping trailer, then taken to be stored in donated shipping containers until the Green Fools find a new space.
A few blocks west, a cluster of volunteers with face masks dangling around their necks sat on a shaded curb, eating sandwiches and banana bread. Their orange t-shirts were emblazoned with the logo of Samaritan's Purse, the Christian aid group.
Matt Grace, who lives across the street, came up to the group, and asked if two volunteers could be spared to help clean up his flooded basement. The volunteers were ready to go, as soon as a few forms were signed.
The basement of Grace's century-old house had been full of water, but by Wednesday it was mostly dry. Volunteers were pressure washing mud off the walls and floors.
"There's absolutely no way we could have done it without the volunteers and the help," he said. "Some of them are very, very close friends. Some of them are friends of friends and some of them I've never met before.
"This is the fourth day into the cleanup and every day the energy levels are dropping, but someone new turns up and picks things up again. You learn a lot about the resiliency of people and the lack of resiliency of certain building materials as well."
It looks like Grace's house will be salvageable, but he said some houses on his block sustained structural damage and will have to be torn down.
Erlton was bustling with volunteers less than a week after the flood, with some going up and down the street handing out sunscreen, gloves and safety goggles. Soggy furniture, ruined dry wall and insulation were piled on curbs throughout the neighbourhood, just to the west of the Stampede Grounds.
Kelly Reid, one of the Samaritan's Purse volunteers, said eventually the throngs of volunteers are going to have to tend to their own lives. For instance, she can't make it out Thursday because she has to take her children to their last day of school
She's hoping the longer-term effort will be a bit like "shift work."
"I'll take two days off my job to do it and then maybe you should take two days off your job to do it — in a perfect world, I guess, that would be nice."
Down the block, Miles Patterson was standing outside his rented house, which he believes will be condemned. The poet had notebooks with four years' worth of work in the basement when the Elbow River flooded in. He's been trying to salvage what pages he can by laying them between dry sheets of paper.
"I am pretty upset. I might not be showing it, but I'm pretty upset and sad that I lost a lot of stuff."
But Patterson said he's amazed by how Calgarians have reached out to flooded neighbourhoods.
"It makes our community that much stronger. It brought us together. It could have done the opposite and pushed everybody away, but it didn't."
Volunteer Jayda Karsten, clad in bright-blue rainboots, called it a "community building event."
"People seem to be there on their own accord and not because they're being guilted into it — that's for sure," she said.
"We're one big community and if there's people who are in need, people are always going to be there to support them."