Volunteer centre flooded with people looking to help

For Lt.-Col. Brian Venables, divisional commander with the Salvation Army, the most difficult part of helping evacuees is trying to put a smile on their face.

But that doesn't mean he, his team and the other volunteers in Prince George are about to give up when trying to help their neighbours affected by the Cariboo wild fires.

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"I'm so impressed by the number of volunteers and that they are so willing to help people form outside Prince George. They just care," Venables said.

For evacuee Debbie Anglin, it's been a trying time.

"It's just not knowing. That's been the hardest part," said Anglin who is currently staying at the Emergency Reception Area at CNC.

Anglin had no time to think after receiving news that she had to flee her home in 100 Mile House.

"We had to leave in such a hurry. We had to leave our horses behind, too. It's so hard to get any information. We just don't know what's happening back home," Anglin said.

"We are sleeping in our truck right now and our dog is about to have pups so she's in the tent," Anglin said.

But like many other evacuees, Anglin has been thankful for support received from volunteers.

Venables, along with his team of six emotional/spiritual care people and 25 kitchen workers, continue to help make sure that evacuees are supported and well fed.

"For now, it's about survival for these people. That's most important. Venables said.

"It's about good neighbors helping good people and we are proud to be a part of this."

Evacuee Ivan Christianson arrived at CNC from 108 Mile House.

"It's been unbelievable. We've had such a good experience and the volunteers have been helping in every which way they can," Christianson said.

And while more evacuees continue to pour in, so do local volunteers who are eager to lend a helping hand.

"It's just been a massive outpouring," said city spokesperson Michael Kellett.

"We've never seen anything like it."

The volunteer centre opened Thursday morning and, according to Kellett, hundreds of potential volunteers came out to show their support.

"Prince George has taken on this challenge and it's brought people together. It's so touching," Kellett said.

The centre opened its doors in an effort Thursday morning to recruit, train, schedule and deploy volunteers to help receive and support evacuees.

Managed by Volunteer PG, the volunteer centre is located in room 205 at the Civic Centre.

As Thursday afternoon, the total number of evacuees registered at the Emergency Reception Centre at CNC stood at 6,029.

According to Kellett, 506 are in group lodging, 635 are in RV parking, 3,075 have found alternative accommodation and 565 have found commercial lodging.

Amy Stewart has her parents from Williams Lake staying in their RV.

"It's unsettling not knowing what they will be coming home to and not knowing if they will even have a home to come back to. I guess it's all about waiting now," Stewart said.

Gil McCall and his wife, Madge Struthers, also from Williams Lake, are staying with their daughter in Prince George.

"We had to leave our home in such a hurry," Struthers said.

It's difficult because you don't know what to take. We did pack all of our photos though."

The couple left a town that was half evacuated and the eerie feeling of emptiness still lingers.

"It was so strange leaving. Everything was closed and empty," Struthers said.

But the couple are happy to have found a temporary home in Prince George.

"Everyone has been so kind. It makes you want to cry," Struthers said.

"Thank you to the people of Prince George."

For those interested in volunteering, visit the volunteer centre in person, fill out a form on the city's website or contact the Volunteer PG Centre at 250-614-7835.

For anyone wishing to donate to the effort in support of evacuees can do so at redcross.ca or call 1-800-418-1111.

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