Photo courtesy London Drugs
Jodene Blain and Tony Hunt had never met, but their lives intersected at a vital time.
Jodene is a community member, law graduate and the administrator for the Ashcroft Indian Band, population 283, in the B.C. Interior a little over an hour’s drive from Kamloops.
Tony Hunt’s regular job is as a loss prevention manager for London Drugs in Richmond.
Last summer, during wild fire season, the Ashcroft Band was hit hard. Fire swept through the tight-knit community, fast.
“There was no gathering stuff. No time for that,” Blain says. People had a few minutes notice to flee for their lives.
“As it spread, people were evacuated to Kamloops. It’s so rural here. People didn’t have the stores to go to. And the roads were closed,” says Blain.
Meanwhile, Hunt’s group had an eye on things.
“Early in an emergency, we have a team of people that work in our response centre who are watching for situations, emergencies as they pop up so they start feeding information to the communities as they pop up,” he said.
There is a comprehensive response plan at the firm’s Richmond headquarters.
“We have a team at London Drugs, a whole bunch of leaders from different departments in our organization, an emergency management team,” Hunt says. “We work on preparation most of the time.”
When there is a need, the group gets their incident committee together. The past few years have seen intense wildfires.
“We’ve done that the last three years in B.C. and Alberta. What we’ll do is position resources as soon as we see a need emerge.”
Sometimes that means sending extra supplies to one of their stores close to the evacuees. Sometimes it means working with non-governmental or governmental agencies to get the supplies to those who need them. Sometimes it means sending things directly to evacuees.
They also get busy preparing large blue bags, called “community emergency comfort kits” full of essentials and family activity bags with games, pens and paper so people far from home have something to do, something to keep the kids busy.
Last summer, the Ashcroft Indian Band popped up on London Drugs’ radar. Hunt’s team looked them up on Facebook.
“The evacuees were finding it hard to get assistance. They were falling through the bureaucratic cracks,” he says. “So, we found the administrator (Blain) and sent a donation.”
Blain remembers what arrived, a five-tonne truck full of comfort kits: “It was a sea of blue bags.”
It was the first truck of supplies to arrive.
“It was very timely. They put toiletries in and toothbrushes—the things you don’t even think about. There were snacks and everything,” Blain says.
“We sent water, non-perishable food, diaper, sunscreen, toilet paper, paper towels, daily essentials, toiletries, wet wipes, hand sanitizer, baby formula, feminine hygiene products,” says Hunt.
“Medicine was a huge thing. People left without all their medications. We had to figure that out,” Blain says.
London Drugs has a mobile
pharmacy that goes into disaster evacuation areas to look up on PharmaNet what meds people need and then provide them.
“We do what we can do, what we are good at. Since we are a pharmacy, that’s what we can do. If we were a restaurant, we would be able to help in a different way,” Hunt says.
London Drugs shows what a company can do as part of a larger community. It wasn’t about drumming up business. The chain has no store in Ashcroft.
“It’s about being part of a community. Staff come by, spending a little extra time preparing community emergency comfort kits. That’s where getting the entire team together really helps,” says Hunt.
How does Blain feel about London Drugs?
“They were the first people to step up and help. You are in your bubble and you don’t realize there are people wanting to help.”
“It was huge for our people to know they weren’t alone. And to know a big company, that everyone recognizes, stepped up. It helped them know they weren’t alone, in this big chaos, where so many lost their homes,” Blain says.
12 families in the Ashcroft Indian Band lost their homes.
When Blain makes the trip to Kamloops, she says she goes to their London Drugs to look up the manager to say thank you for his and everyone in the chain’s help.
The Ashcroft Indian Band was neither the start nor the finish of London Drugs’ emergency efforts for last year’s fire season.
“So we continued after that to process donations to 20 evacuation centres providing family activity kits and community emergency comfort kits. We gave away 3,900 individual kits last summer,” he says.
“We definitely try to pitch in,” Hunt says, “It’s a great feeling. You don’t solve the whole problem, but you contribute to the solution. If we all contribute a little bit, then we can be part of the solution.
And how is it this fire season? “There’s lots going on. We’re busy responding,” says Hunt.
“What we do is position resources as soon as we see a need emerging. We sent a couple of 53 foot trailers of supplies up to the interior to donate and distribute to evacuation centres.”
Blain says at the Ashcroft Indian Band, the first few new homes are almost done. There are six more houses under construction and another two due to break soil soon.
London Drugs is once again gathering donations for the Red Cross. All money goes directly to the Red Cross with the federal government matching every dollar donated.