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Lac La Biche Mayor, Omer Moghrabi (centre), greets Sikhs from Brampton with donations for the evacuees.

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Brampton Sikhs Bring Relief To
Fort McMurray Firestorm Evacuees





Lac la Biche, Alberta, Canada

At the entrance to the Bold Center in Lac La Biche, there was a happy commotion Wednesday (May 11, 2016) night. A group of guys from Ontario had driven across the country to take supplies to the Fort McMurray, Altberta, evacuees.

Outside the front entrance, where you could now smell the smoke from the wildfire on account of the wind changing direction, seven guys from Brampton and one from Hamilton unloaded a large U-Haul truck, their arms filled with boxes of mandarin orange cups, snacks and baby food.

“In Fort McMurray, everybody is hurt,” said Gurmeet Singh. “So we want to help.”

The men, all members of the Singh Khalsa Sewa Club, left Brampton in a convoy on Sunday and drove non-stop for 3500 km, only pausing to switch drivers. They arrived Wednesday night at the evacuation centre in Lac La Biche.

Gurpreet Singh says that every one of his friends here immigrated to Canada and they have been shown a lot of respect and enjoyed freedom of religion.

“Even if you go to Ottawa, they put the Sikh flag over there for one week,” he said, referencing the city of Ottawa honouring Sikh Heritage Month this past April. “We just want to give back.”

The day after the wildfire forced the city’s evacuation, the group had a meeting and decided to help. Gurpreet says it is a part of the Sikh Faith to give 10 per cent of your income to the needy. So each of them kicked in around $2,600 and, with additional donations from the community, they had between $40,000 and $50,000 to buy supplies.

After dropping off the medicine, food and clothing on Wednesday, they planned to sleep at a friend’s home in Edmonton - and then it was straight home.

“All of us, we are working. Some of us are truckers, some of us are from the construction industry, so we have to go back quickly,” said Gurpreet. “All of us, only one person is working in the family.”

As the men talked about their trek, Lac La Biche Mayor Omer Moghrabi came outside. Someone had told him about this latest act of kindness and he wanted to take a photograph with the group. Moghrabi moved to Lac La Biche from Lebanon when he was just a baby and has been a Toronto Maple Leafs fan his whole life. He excitedly pulled out his cell to show the men his Leafs screensaver. Connections are everywhere.

“They came all the way from Toronto. I can’t believe that,” said Betty-Anne Eldridge, watching from the sidewalk.

“Thank you so much,” she said to one of the group. “You guys must be exhausted. Thank you for coming.”

When she left her home in Fort McMurray on Tuesday, it was still standing, but it was such a frightening escape that she called her sister in Peterborough, Ontario, just to tell her she loved her.

“I have to show you a pic of what it looked like when I left,” she said, digging through her purse for the phone that was in her coat pocket all along. The slightly blurry photo is one that almost every evacuee has from the I-can’t-believe-this-happened file - a photo of a home with a flaming orange sky in the background.

Looking away from the photo and back to the truck, she smiled. “This is so neat,” she said.

“You came all the way from Toronto?” she asked again, in disbelief, as one of the men told her he was actually from Hamilton. Small world - she used to live in neighbouring Ancaster. “Hello, neighbour!” she said.

Everyday there is a little angel that appears, she said, listing the good deeds she has witnessed. On Wednesday, the little angel had taken a different form: eight guys from the Toronto area, all but two wearing colourful turbans, happy to give back.

[Courtesy: The Toronto Star. Edited for]
May 13, 2016

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