‘This keeps me busy’: Fort McMurray fire evacuee runs donation centre in Wandering River

Click to play video: 'Evacuee helping other Fort McMurray fire evacuees' Evacuee helping other Fort McMurray fire evacuees
WATCH ABOVE: A Fort McMurray woman is giving back to fire evacuees in a unique way. She oversees a donation centre in Wandering River. Julia Wong has her special story – May 23, 2016

The organizer of the unofficial donation centre in Wandering River says she uses the facility to help her cope. She herself is a Fort McMurray wildfire evacuee.

Paula Fudge fled Fort McMurray on May 2 after there was a mandatory evacuation order for the entire city.

“My intentions were to stop in Anzac. When I was passing by each of those entrances to Anzac, it was just crazy with traffic,” she said.

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“I might as well keep going until I’ve run out of gas. I ran out of gas near Wandering River.”

Fudge arrived in the tiny hamlet of 400 people early Wednesday morning and by nightfall, she ran into other evacuees who finally made their way there.

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“I thought I would run out to the donation centre [at the fire hall]… and I would pick up a few things for them,” she said.

She ended up making a couple runs for fire evacuees and it was during that time the donation centre shifted from the fire hall to a large building near a work camp.

“They loaded up my truck again to bring it all up to this area and then stuff started coming in. I was thrown in it,” she said about her new role as organizer.

READ MORE: Alberta health officials focusing on mental health assistance in wake of Fort McMurray wildfire

Fudge, who likes to organize, said the role is a good fit for her.

A building near a work camp in Wandering River has been turned into a donation centre. Julia Wong/Global News
Tables are stacked with baby food, water and toiletries. Julia Wong/Global News
Organizers are trying to make donations easy and simple for evacuees to find. Julia Wong/Global News
There have been many donations of clothes for women, men and children. Julia Wong/Global News

“It occupies my time. I’d go crazy if I sat in camp all day doing nothing. This keeps me busy and keeps my mind off everything else that’s going on,” she said.

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The role is not too much to handle for the fire evacuee. Rather, she said it helps her process everything that has happened.

READ MORE: Phased re-entry into Fort McMurray after wildfire to begin June 1

“Idle minds is not a good thing. If all you think about is what’s happening and the bad side of things that’s happening, it’s going to get more difficult for you,” she said.

“For me, this thing works for me in any situation. If whatever I’m going through, if I sit down and work it out, it’s easier to deal with.”

READ MORE: Fort McMurray wildfire: evacuation order lifted for some work camps north of the community

Fudge said she has been overwhelmed by the support residents in Wandering River have given her and the nearly 400 other evacuees in the surrounding region.

“It’s probably overwhelming for them too to have so many people in town. But they’ve been great about it. Anybody I’ve talked to in Wandering River has been very supportive,” she said.

Wandering River Councillor Jack Dowhaluk said the county is looking at long-term housing options for evacuees.

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