I was sound asleep when it began. Sheets of rain poured down, lightning, thunder. Then hail pummelled my roof. It went on and on and seemed like it would never end. I had experienced heavy downpours before, but nothing like this!
In the morning, I went outside to look for damage to my house and car. Fortunately, I found none, but half my backyard was flooded with about six inches of water. Relieved, I went inside to begin my day.
Then the phone started ringing. Friends asked me if my basement had been flooded. (I don’t have a basement.) They told me that roads and bridges had been washed out, the city’s sewer plant was largely submerged and many basements had been filled with dirty, foul smelling water. Hundreds of people had been forced out of their homes or were in need of food, clothing or other essential items.
The next day, I heard on the radio that St. Peter’s Church located in the East end, the worst hit area of the city, was being used as an emergency relief centre. My wife collected diapers and other baby essentials, put them in a box, and told me to deliver them to the centre. I called the Catholic Register in Toronto and asked the editor if he wanted a story about the crisis centre. He told me to go ahead, so off I went, camera and diapers in hand.
A stream of cars headed over the bridge connecting the East end to the rest of the city. The church parking lot was crowded with cars, and a steady stream of people was entering the church basement with donations. Many people were leaving with needed essentials. I walked into the donations area and dropped off the diapers. Greeting me was a young female volunteer who was busy receiving donations.
The basement was full of donated goods. Many banquet tables were covered with large piles of canned food, bottled water, toothpaste, toilet paper, clothing and other essentials. Volunteers were everywhere, happily serving people in need and joyfully organizing their work.
I interviewed a few of the young volunteers. Some were parishioners of Catholic churches, some were not. All had full time jobs and had taken time off, with their employers’ blessings, to respond to the crisis.
The relief centre was not initiated by the Diocese of Thunder Bay or by the parish. An initially unorganized, small group of volunteers had come to the East end soon after the storm. They had gone door-to-door, making a list of residents’ needs. Soon, they had collected so many donations that they needed a central storage area.
The day after the storm, they contacted the priest at St. Peter’s, Fr. Terry Sawchuk, who allowed them to use “the only dry basement in the area.” Fr. Terry has worked side-by-side with the volunteers, while continuing his regular duties at the parish.
The group at St. Peter’s is not the only organization responding to the crisis. The Salvation Army and the Red Cross helped. The city began a collection that raised more than $200,000. Local businesses helped. Restaurants supplied free hot meals.
The episode has left a deep impression on me. I enjoyed taking a few pictures and writing a news story for the Catholic Register, but, much more importantly, my faith in humanity has been restored. I feel humbled. I had begun to believe that, in our irreligious age, people did not care for one another very much. The public response to this crisis, which is still going on, has proven otherwise. I’m sure many other people in the city feel the same way, so I thank God for the “Miracle in Thunder Bay.” Please pray for those who are still adversely affected.