Chilliwack resident Jamie Cunningham shakes hands with truck driver and organizer Gordon VanLaerhoven

Chilliwack resident Jamie Cunningham shakes hands with truck driver and organizer Gordon VanLaerhoven

Truckloads of support from Chilliwack for Fort Mac

Chilliwack truck driver Gord VanLaerhoven came up with the idea to bring supplies up to Alberta to help Fort Mac wildfire evacuees

Chilliwack responded to the Fort Mac disaster with a massive outpouring of generosity and support.

Truck driver Gord VanLaerhoven came up with the idea to truck supplies up to the area where some of the 88,000 victims had been evacuated from Fort McMurray wildfires.

He told the Progress he was hoping they might at least collect enough to fill one tractor trailer with donations. He had planned to pay for the gas himself.

Vanlaerhoven, 31, asked to borrow a company truck from his boss at Bulldog Transport, who said yes right away.

“I never dreamed it would grow into something this big,” he said.

Chilliwack heard the call and came out in droves.

The far end of the mall parking lot was a complete zoo by mid-afternoon Friday.

In the end there was enough to fill four semi trucks, and the gas money was covered.

But it wasn’t just that the community was responding to the disaster. It was the strong way everyone felt such a surge of community pride.

“It was quite surreal,” VanLaerhoven said. “Especially after all of the bad stuff that had happened. This just made people feel so positive.”

People jumped into action when he put out the call online for help and donations. They started filling the truck on Thursday with the help of a forklift and several volunteers. They continued all day Friday, filling the trucks with donations.

In the end, the convoy of four semi tractor trailers full of much-needed supplies headed out of town at about 5 p.m. on Friday night with people cheering them on along the road, some pilot trucks and a police escort to the highway. They were Alberta-bound with tonnes of brand-new goods for the victims of the Fort McMurray wildfires.

It was everything from dog food, diapers, and diabetic needles. There were bed-in-bags, and pillows to palettes of water, baby formula, wipes, non-perishables, toys and much more.

He estimated it was about $300,000 worth of goods, with another $20,000 in cash.

VanLaerhoven hopped into their trucks with three other drivers, Dave Collie, Dustin VanDokkumburg, Kelby Devers. It took about 12 hours each way.

They were completely blown away by the kindness and generosity shown to them at every juncture, from free truck fuel, to meals, hugs and thank yous, all along the way.

“It was all pretty damn emotional,” VanLaerhoven said on Monday.

“What really stood out for me were the stories people told us of what they went through. So many had to flee with nothing.”

Word spread very quickly with the help of a Progress article and other posts on social media, that they were collecting for the fire victims in the mall parking lot.

The traffic was constant over two days.

After the terrible week Chilliwack had, with a couple of downtown stabbings and a train fatal, it was a soothing balm for the entire community to see the generous effort come together.

Many hearts swelled to watch a small gesture turn into a very big deal, and so much small-town pride was generated for Chilliwack in one weekend.

Kim Walker who works at Pharmasave brought diabetic needles, and a variety of personal hygiene on Friday.

“I was so happy to see so many people here,” she said.

Many people were brought to tears over this heartwarming story.

The Chilliwack men drove all night and eventually zeroed in on Leduc, Alberta, as their destination Saturday morning. They were going to unload, and then turn around, with little sleep and a couple of quick meals in them.

One of the messages, of “deepest gratitude” appeared on the page “Chilliwack for Fort Mac” from Jeremy Moon and Deidre Trottier-Moon.

“We have become overwhelmed with the love and help from the amazing people of Chilliwack,” they wrote.

“We had to leave Fort McMurray with literally the clothes on our backs. The help we have already received in the last couple days is a beautiful reminder of real people coming together in time of trouble.

“Coming into the Cottonwood mall parking lot and seeing all the people loading trucks and dropping off donations put my wife and I in tears. We were so grateful and overwhelmed and know that the people who receive those supplies are going to feel the same.”

It rejuvenated spirits to see the outpouring of support, like Ann Derouin who posted on the “Chilliwack For Fort Mac” page about how great Chilliwack is:  “What I saw volunteering today rekindled my hope in humanity. To see businesses, families, people on social assistance, seniors on fixed incomes, all come together to donate to the people of Fort McMurray. As well to see so many volunteers, all with busy lives taking the time out because they care about other humans. I feel very blessed to live in such an amazing community.”

 

The response was really quite unbelievable, but at the same time, Chilliwack is known for its exceptionally kind heart.

“I have to say I’ve never seen anything come together like this,” he said. VanLaerhoven borrowed ideas from supporters to explain the phenomenal response.

“I think one of the main reasons why it turned out as well as it did, was the snowball effect. It takes one person to start something, then it gets bigger and bigger as people join in.

“Another is the ripple effect, like when you throw a rock in the water, and the ripples go out in all directions. Yeah, it was pretty cool.”

Does he have a message for those who donated?

“Thanks for all the support! We couldn’t have done it without you.”

Just Posted

Special weather statement issued for Fraser Valley as first summer heat arrives June 20, 2021, and set to persist all week. (Photo by James Day on Unsplash)
Second day of hot temperatures rippling across Fraser Valley

Communities from Abbotsford to Hope will see daytime high maximum temps of 32 degrees

FILE – Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, takes part in an event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Indigenous Peoples Day must be a ‘call to action’, says Assembly of First Nations chief

Discovery of children at Kamloops residential school site must lead to change, Perry Bellegarde says

A black sedan, white SUV, red pickup truck and black hatchback were all involved in a four-vehicle collision at Hodgins Avenue and Yale Road on Friday, Feb. 26, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Chilliwack’s top 10 worst intersections for crashes in 2020

Overall collisions down by huge numbers with fewer drivers in pandemic year

The theme for this year’s Fraser Valley Regional Library Summer Reading Club is “Crack the Case” and Katie Burns, community librarian at the Chilliwack Library, is encouraging people of all ages to sign up. She is seen here at the Chilliwack Library on Friday, June 18, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Crack the case, read, win prizes with FVRL Summer Reading Club

‘Immerse yourself in other worlds and have a bit of fun while you do it,’ says Chilliwack librarian

Harrison Hot Springs country singer Todd Richard poses for a photo with Mission firefighters. (Photo/Sarah Plawutski)
VIDEO: Harrison country artist Todd Richard plans for a busy, rockin’ summer

Richard and his band look to live shows as restrictions start to lift

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

Emergency crews shut down White Rock’s Five Corners district on Feb. 19, 2020 following an assault. (File photo)
Trial underway in February 2020 death of White Rock senior

Ross Banner charged with manslaughter following Five Corners altercation

Investigators use a bucket to help recover human remains at a home burned in the Camp fire, Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018, in Magalia, Calif. Many of the missing in the deadly Northern California wildfire are elderly residents in Magalia, a forested town of about 11,000 north of the destroyed town of Paradise. (AP Photo/John Locher)
‘Forever War’ with fire has California battling forests instead

Five of the state’s largest-ever blazes seared California last year, as authorities tackle prevention

Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto and IOC President Thomas Bach, on a screen, speak during a five=party online meeting at Harumi Island Triton Square Tower Y in Tokyo Monday, June 21, 2021. The Tokyo Olympics will allow some local fans to attend when the games open in just over a month, Tokyo organizing committee officials and the IOC said on Monday. (Rodrigo Reyes Marin/Pool Photo via AP)
Tokyo Olympics to allow Japanese fans only, with strict limits

Organizers set a limit of 50% capacity — up to a maximum of 10,000 fans

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Border quarantine to soon lift for fully vaccinated Canadians

Eligible travellers must still take multiple COVID-19 tests

A portion of the George Road wildfire burns near Lytton, B.C. in this Friday, June 18, 2021 handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, BC Wildfire Service *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Blaze near Lytton spread across steep terrain, says BC Wildfire Service

Fire began Wednesday and is suspected to be human-caused, but remains under investigation

(Black Press Media files)
Burnaby RCMP look for witnesses in hit-and-run that left motorcyclist dead

Investigators believe that the suspect vehicle rear-ended the motorcycle before fleeing the scene

Most Read