Thursday, 26 May 2016 08:00

Brooks bands together to help Fort McMurray in ‘epic event’

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Afternoon Giving Back to Fort Mac festivities took place in the Centennial Arena parking lot which included food vendors, music, booths and games. During the evening there were speeches and a concert. Afternoon Giving Back to Fort Mac festivities took place in the Centennial Arena parking lot which included food vendors, music, booths and games. During the evening there were speeches and a concert. Photo by Ryan Dahlman

Brooks has been devastated by the oil prices nosedive and subsequent downturn in petroleum exploration in the region.

There are many out of work and the economy is struggling, but all of that negativity was erased for at least a little while when the community and region rallied to help Fort McMurray.That northern city has been devastated by  wildfire wiping out 523,000 hectares of forest in northern Alberta as of May 24 and now heading into Saskatchewan.
What was supposed to be a modest fundraiser in a parking lot of a Brooks grocery store to help out the residents in Fort McMurray turned into a full 12-hour fundraising event which raised $57,589 in cash and an least that amount in goods and merchandise to make the total more than six figures.
“Giving Back to Fort Mac” turned into a 12-hour fundraiser at the Centennial Arena with the first portion in the parking lot featuring food, children’s games and inflatable equipment with no less than eight bands including one who drove down from Fort McMurray.
It was an incredible banding together of volunteers and organizers in just over a week’s time.
Mark Tanigami of Frontier Signworks and Safety, who was one of the organizers, but humbly points out he was just one of many who got involved “and made a few phone calls”, was proud of his community.
“I’m 33 years old and it’s the (largest) natural disaster to hit the province in my opinion,” explains Tanigami.
He says organizers and volunteers felt compelled to help not only fellow Albertans, but between two communities who share a kinship with the petroleum industry as well as many out-of-province citizens, “(May 14) was an epic event.”
The $57,589 taken in by organizers will be donated to the Canadian Red Cross and be matched 2:1 by the provincial and federal governments. Organizers also say 34,000 pounds of non-perishable food items, toiletries and other supplies were also collected will be distributed to those in need in Fort McMurray and area. 
Tanigami knows it will be put to good use. After putting in a long night of cleaning up the arena area, Tanigami was among those who loaded up two 18-wheeler trailers full of the goods which  headed north.
Brian Jean, leader of the Wildrose opposition was on hand to make a speech and express his heartfelt thanks on behalf of the Fort McMurray region.
Jean himself lost his Fort McMurray home to the devastating fire. When he heard what was happening in Brooks, he got himself to the event to thank the community personally and be a part of it.
“I mean, he came all the way to southern Alberta. His house just burnt down,” says Tanigami who was impressed and moved by the gesture. “He asked me ‘why did you guys do (all of) this?’ He couldn’t believe it. I told him, “because ‘you’d do the same for us.’
“I mean if you were there, you could feel it, it was just electric in there. Everybody had a smile on their faces ... people were enjoying the music, enjoy the comradery because we knew what we were doing (to help Fort McMurray). Brooks has been hit really hard (by the economic downturn). When we saw what happened, we wanted to rally around them.”
Tanigami says it started out as JBS packers wanted to help by being part of a barbecue at the Freson Brothers grocery parking lot. That idea quickly grew into having something at the Centennial Arena.
Tanigami made a few phone calls to help with entertainment.
“Don’t tell me to throw a party,” explains Tanigami, with a chuckle who says six bands played eight hours.
Even more organizers made a few more phone calls to get others involved with the food, facilities and the next thing they knew, Giving Back to Fort Mac was organized in nine days.
City of Brooks, County of Newell, a variety of local social agencies and businesses all banded with private citizens to make it a more than commendable effort.
Local MLA Derek Fildebrandt and Brooks Mayor Barry Morishita were amongst the dignitaries there and helping out as well.
Like many of the volunteers, he had to put his life on hold. After helping stay up until 4 a.m. to assist in the clean up along with many volunteers, Tanigami jumped in a semi-trailer full of the donated goods, and headed north.
Rescue camps at Lac La Biche, Athabasca and Boyle all received much needed help.
In the case of Boyle, the non perishables and the donated goods were desperately needed.
Tanigami was just one of the more than 100 volunteers who helped.
He is fiercely proud of Brooks and always has been. He says this event not only helped Fort McMurray, but the Centennial City itself.
Many business people who never usually interact, got together, co-operated and worked to a common goal. Tanigami is hoping this will not only build civic pride, but also new partnerships and at least open some co-operative dialogue amongst people.
Calling himself a ‘high-paced fella’ he was wiped out and took the long weekend to relax.It gave him the chance to think back about what the region accomplished.
“I just had the chance to sit down and I thought ‘holy ----, we did it’,” he explains. “Doesn’t matter, if you’re from Brooks or Medicine Hat or wherever, you always just hear about the problems in Brooks. Our community (Brooks) is a special community.”
To view some of the festivities at the fundraiser, look up the hashtag #FromBrooksWithLove on social media.

Read 1489 times Last modified on Wednesday, 25 May 2016 14:43
Ryan Dahlman

Managing Editor

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