As we reach the final day in The 12 Days of Giving, we head to Wheatley where the community is facing a winter of uncertainty. Following Mr. Rogers’ advice to “look for the helpers,” we found many. Here is the story of one of those helpers, and information on how you can help too.
The piles of debris may be disappearing, but the devastation from the August, 2021 explosion in Wheatley remains far-reaching.
With an evacuation zone still in place and more than 70 people unable to return to their homes and businesses, the community has embraced those displaced and affected by the ongoing situation.
Susan Fulmer is the director of the Village Resource Centre and Wheatley Area Food Bank, a community-driven access point quickly built out of need after the explosion. Initially housed in the Wheatley Baptist Church, which is in the evacuation zone, Susan and her team turned the necessity to relocate the food bank into an opportunity to ensure that no one was left behind. The Resource Centre is now home to a larger food bank with expanded refrigeration, a clothing bank, municipal outreach offices including social services, and a library branch—plus a temporary provincial government office to help residents navigate aid and information at the provincial level.
The shift to becoming a one-stop centre and information hub has many benefits to a community dealing with such uncertainty. “The government offices are only open at specific times, but we’re here all the time,” says Susan. “We can direct calls and help people get information they need.” She adds that the building truly is a multi-purpose centre, allowing people to come in and get what they need with dignity. “Some of the evacuees have never had to access a food bank before,” she says, noting that on top of the trauma of losing their homes, many are navigating a system that is new and unfamiliar. “This is a loving, non-judgmental zone. If we have it and you need it, please take it.”
Susan also reassures clients that by using the donated goods, they are also helping. “People want to donate items and be of service, so when donated items are used, we’ve come full circle. And it feels good.”
As of right now, there is no set timeline for allowing residents back into the evacuation zone. With several additional gas leak occurrences since the summer, the area is still unsafe. Currently, less than 20 people have had the opportunity to visit their homes, for even an hour. And supporting the long-term displacement is something that Susan and others worry about greatly. “People always give during the holidays. But we have to create sustainability. This is going to go on for quite some time. After January, donations will go down. But the need will still be there.”
Nevertheless, Susan remains optimistic that, as long as the community continues to band together, Wheatley will pull through.
“It goes without saying that Wheatley is hurting… but underneath, the resilience is there.”
If you are in Wheatley and require information or assistance, please reach out. [email protected] or 226-484-1004.
108 Talbot Street East,
P.O. Box 99
You can help keep the Village Resource Centre and Wheatley Area Food Bank in operation by making a donation today.