Emmanuel Foundation executive director Lyle Johnson isn’t sure where to start.
On Saturday, he went with his family to see the aftermath of the Edmonton warehouse fire that destroyed almost all of the charity’s donations.
The fire happened Friday at around 5:20 a.m. It gutted the building and thrift shop, which the foundation uses to help cover costs. Hay used as insulation in the roof helped fuel the flames.
“The loss, the impact of it all… The decisions that are before us, (it’s) all starting to come home now,” Johnson said.
“One of the great things we experienced over the last 24 hours was overwhelming support.”
The Emmanuel Foundation sends shipping containers of goods to developing countries, and it also builds playgrounds for orphanages. In Edmonton, the foundation puts together ready-to-cook meals and raises funds for those efforts through thrift shop sales.
“We have sent 150 40-foot containers of hope to 40 different countries in the world, and we installed over 100 playgrounds in 23 different countries in orphanages around the world,” Johnson said.
Johnson started with the charity in 2007. He worked with his wife to expand it. Three years ago, they started operating out of the massive warehouse, and just this year, they opened the thrift store.
“This has probably been our best days. It’s all come together for this moment… and then it’s gone,” Johnson said.
“The big loss, for me, is all of the love that people poured into trying to help others, that was in that building,” Johnson said.
“Thousands of hours of volunteer labour, and every time they would pack a box or sort through clothing, they are thinking of folks that are going to be helped by it.”
The foundation opened its doors to the warehouse to share the space. Johnson said the foundation works closely with Hope Mission. It used about 4,000 square feet of the space.
“All of the items they had for winter, they worked so hard. They had donations that come across from other places and they had sorted,” Johnson said.
White Cross Canada is another charity that works with the foundation. Its focus is to ship medical supplies to developing countries.
“Emmanuel (Foundation) has always been so helpful in arranging for our container to send medical supplies to Cameroon, Africa. We’ve sent, on average, two containers a year arranged by Lyle and his team here,” White Cross Canada volunteer co-ordinator Bert Harsch said.
“There are six hospitals there that things we send go to, plus about 40-some outpatient clinics,” Harsch said.
“It breaks my heart because not that long ago, they were here and (I was told) we got several pallets of stuff waiting for you to send to Cameroon. Now it’s all gone.”
The loss is huge, but both Johnson and Harsch are finding comfort in their faith.
Johnson said while the warehouse is gutted, a shipping container set to go out in a few days with medical supplies was untouched. It will be the last container they can ship until they can get back on their feet.
The organization is now working with insurance and trying to determine all of its inventory. Johnson has hope the foundation will be able to continue to help others.
Edmonton Fire Services has not determined the cause of the fire, and a damage estimate hasn’t been finished.