YMCA Collaboration

What Happens in Crisis

“To stand by and watch was, quite simply, not an option.  The question we were all asking ourselves was ‘how can we help?’” -Allison (Allie) Young

This past week, the Okanagan and surrounding areas have been ravaged by wildfires that came so quickly and so ferociously, that they left little time for anything but emergency response.  Thousands of people fled their homes, more were put on ‘alert’, anxiously waiting with bags packed ready to leave at a moment’s notice, praying the winds would shift.  Watching it unfold was excruciating.  Our collective ache to help friends and neighbours burned as hot as the inferno bearing down on our beloved community.

There are more than 1,800 Interior Health staff who are or were on evacuation alert or order as a result of the wildfires burning in West Kelowna, Kelowna, and Lake Country. Despite their uncertainty and fear, many of these individuals continued to come to work at Kelowna General Hospital (KGH) and in health care settings within our community.  Medical emergencies and life-saving medical treatments don’t stop, even in the face of local wildfire emergencies.

Last Saturday, the call came in.  Robyn Goplen was heading up Emergency Operations at KGH.  “Staff were coming to work, working double shifts to cover for their colleagues.  Many had partners who were on the front-lines of the fire. They were literally coming to work hours after being evacuated or put on alert. They had no time to go to the grocery store,” Robyn explains. “What’s more, many were unable to come to work because they had young kids at home. We needed help.”

Robyn reached out to KGH Foundation CEO, Allie Young, in the hopes that there was something we could do.

“I didn’t even think, I just said yes, we will get you what you need,” states Allie.

A few quick calls to incredible community partners, and a make-shift fresh food pantry containing fresh fruit, vegetables, sandwiches, and baked goods was set up in the Foundation business office at KGH.  The Pantry, as it’s been dubbed, has required non-stop replenishment to keep up with the needs of staff. “The donations from generous local food growers and providers like Don O’Ray and the Lake Country Food Bank, and community groups like Khalsa Aid, and many more, have been gratefully received,” says the KGH Foundation’s Gabriela Rubio Bocangel, who has been helping manage the Pantry.

The question of child care could have been a little trickier.  But what often happens in crisis is that the impossible becomes possible.  Allie reached out to Allyson Graf, President and CEO of the YMCA Southern Interior, and Danielle Miranda, VP of Child Care, and laid it out.  Allie, Allyson, and Danielle have worked together for years and had already entered into a strong partnership last year when the KGH Foundation and the YMCA Southern Interior co-launched the Lake Life Lottery.

“I was moved to tears, not just at their willingness to help, but that they both have been evacuated. Allyson’s husband is a firefighter and she had not seen him for three days.” Recalls Allie.

Childcare is a major concern in our community already but Danielle took inventory of what spaces could be made available to help health care staff on a temporary basis.

“While we were committed to helping, we also had to make sure we were providing families safe and consistent options,” says Danielle.  Together with her team, she was able to cobble together a list of 70 temporary spaces, and within 72 hours of Robyn’s first plea for help, the call went out to health care staff.

“We are so grateful, I can’t even put it into words,” says Robyn.  “The ripple of this crisis reaches corners of our community that could have easily gone unseen.”

“Thank you for seeing us.”

What happens in crisis is that we remember with striking clarity what’s truly important.  Everything else falls away.  We lean into what connects us, our shared values, and our reverence for this extraordinary place we are blessed to call home.

And we give.  Because we have learned, time and again, that giving changes everything.

To be sure, there will continue to be tough days ahead for so many in our community.  But we, along with our local partners in non-profit and community service will be there for you.  And we know you will be there for each other.

Together, we are truly Okanagan Strong.


Media Contact:

Shauna Nyrose, VP Brand & Communications
KGH Foundation
p| 250-862-4300 ext. 7058
c| 250-801-0886
e| shauna.nyrose@interiorhealth.ca

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