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Sunday, December 11, 2016

Slave Lake group on mission to spread Christmas joy in Fort McMurray

A team from Slave Lake is spreading holiday cheer to their northern Alberta friends by distributing boxes of homemade ornaments to Fort McMurray residents.

“Our project was not to fill somebody’s tree; it was basically to touch their heart,” Brenna Emes said. “All they got was a small box with just a handful of ornaments. So, I wasn’t sure how it would be received.”

Starting in May, Emes began asking for donations of homemade ornaments to give to people who lost their belongings in the massive wildfire in Wood Buffalo.
“I witnessed so many friends and some family and our community members go through the same thing,” Emes said, referring to the fire that destroyed one-third of Slave Lake five years ago.
“I know that come Christmas, after everything’s kind of settled down, tradition hits. For so many, tradition is hanging those ornaments on the tree every year and reminiscing where they came from,” she said. “No matter how gaudy, whatever they were, they meant something to them.
“We wanted to provide a few ornaments to start their new collections that had some meaning behind them.”
Emes created a Facebook group called Christmas Love for Fort McMurray to explain her mission and soon, offers flooded in from across the country.
“There’s shells from Vancouver Island that were painted into Santas,” she said. “Some Slave Lake residents replicated ornaments that they received from others after the fire. I had one lady send in an ornament – she lost all of her collection and when she went to work at her playschool, she found an ornament that was made by her daughter on her playschool tree and that’s the only one that she has that she hangs on her tree every year – so she made those.”
A U.S. veteran sent 500 ornaments and a package was sent from as far away as Poland.
A group of seniors from Ponoka sent 50 wood slice stamped ornaments with “made with love” tags.

Jan Oegema, 85, sent 50 hand-carved wooden angel ornaments from Ontario.

A group of students from Slake Lake made burlap poinsettia, light bulb penguin and snowmen ornaments.
Emes said whether it was cutting paper, tying on tags, packing or shipping ornaments, her community went over and above to offer support.
“I put out a call for help and people just flooded me with assistance.”

Over the last few days, volunteers went door to door in Fort McMurray to make the special deliveries. A total of 3,600 homemade ornaments should make their way to their new homes by next week.

For some of the recipients, it was an emotional experience.
“Homesick and Christmas coming has got me down and then we had some upsetting news that has further delayed rebuilding and the anger overwhelmed me,” Shannon Rochelle shared on Facebook.
“Then at 9:30 p.m. an angel appeared at our door. She said: ‘does Shannon live here?’ handed my fiancĂ© a white box and disappeared into the night. I had myself a good cry as I read the note, and admired the ornaments obviously made with love and care.
“Thank you. I needed this. We needed this. Throughout this whole ordeal it has been the random acts of kindness, that seem to appear exactly when we most need them, that has made this experience bearable. Thank you.”

Each ornament had a gift tag attached that read: “Made with Love. From Christmas Love for Fort McMurray.”
Since the deliveries have begun, people in Fort McMurray are reaching out to say thank you. Emes shared one message from a young adult.
“Thanks so much for understanding the importance of the good memories tied to so many irreplaceable Christmas ornaments,” she read.
“No matter how gaudy, tacky or dated they were, each one held a special memory we loved to reminiscence over every time we hung it on the tree.
“These new ornaments will now hold the same importance and memories and, in coming years, when we hang them on the tree, we’ll remember and reminisce of a group of people who truly understood and cared enough to spread their Christmas cheer.
“I was so grateful that… it means so much to them,” Emes said, “and so grateful to witness all the emotion and the love.”

A photo of each creation is posted on the Christmas Love for Fort McMurray Facebook page. Some recipients are tracking down the ones they received to learn more about who made them.
“They write messages underneath their ornament to the resident,” Emes said. “Some have shared stories, like Slave Lake residents that lost their homes, or just the meaning behind the ornament. Now the recipients can go on there, find those ornaments, find the story about them, see all the messages, and it’s just flooding right now with emotion. It’s just beautiful.”
By  Global News
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