When Sharon Williscroft joined Emergency Social Services (ESS) in January, she didn’t really know what the organization did.
Williscroft joined because she volunteered with Red Cross, and a co-worker suggested she also work with ESS.
“We were meeting once a month and learning stuff about what it was, what ESS does and then all of a sudden it’s like, okay. Now it’s the real thing.”
Before, she says, the team would practice by running mock-up scenarios.
“It’s totally different when you are trying to imagine and make stuff up from when you actually hit the real situation and then you are filling in all of these forms,” she says.
Her first day of volunteering was the day after the Gustafsen Fire started, July 7, working with the people evacuating from the 105, 103 and 108 as they were forced from their homes, she says.
In times of emergency, ESS helps provide access to food, lodging and other supplies if people were forced to leave in a rush.
“It was like filling forms from eight in the morning until eight at night,” she says.
“You kind of go on autopilot and it didn’t hit me until two days later,” she says.
She was attending St. Timothy’s Anglican Church when the congregation began to sing a song written because of last year’s devastating wildfires in Australia.
“We were singing that song and it hit me and the tears started rolling down my face and I thought, I didn’t realize how much of people’s anxieties and fears had come in because I wasn’t thinking about it, but you still take it in.”
Afterwards, she says the minister did healing oil and prayers.
Williscroft says she could feel the heaviness lifting “and I was okay.”
While Williscroft lives in Horse Lake and wasn’t evacuated with 100 Mile House, that was the only shift she was able to work before 100 Mile House was evacuated.
When the town came back, she started back to work — both at her part-time job at Safeway and at ESS.
One of the moments that stuck with her, she says, was helping to fill out the forms for one person who already knew they had lost their home.
“That was on the first day and that was one of the ones that really hit me hard. I just kind of blanked out.”
Now she says, it’s the length of time people have had to be away from their homes that is affecting people.
“People are edgy, they are tired of being away from home and all you can do is just give them a hug and say hang in there. Hopefully, the fires won’t go that way.”
Other days the mood is different.
“Today was different because people had been evacuated and they were just coming in for renewals and information and it was a lot more relaxed,” she says.
“You help people and they come in and give people a hug and you don’t even know them and they say, ‘Oh, thank you so much for helping.’ So there is good stuff too.”
Now that she’s got a handle on what she’s doing, she says she’s feeling much less stressed.
Instead, she says, through the experience her compassion and empathy for people have increased.
People are so grateful for the help, even if they are still not at home they are thankful and grateful that there is something there to help. I know there are people we can’t help — they want stuff backdated and we’re not allowed to backdate stuff, and so you feel bad for them — but we can only do what the government says.”
Aside from her part time job and ESS she also works with the Red Cross’s local Home Equipment Loan Program that provides assistance to people in the area. She works out of the office there as well.
Having moved to the area in 1980, she says her roots are deep in the community.
“Everyone seems to pull together but small towns are like that. That’s why we are still here, because it is a big family,” she says.
“It was funny, my daughter said, ‘Mom, this is the year you picked to join ESS? There must have been a reason,’” says Williscroft, re-emphasizing that she joined at first just because her co-worker at the Red Cross suggested it.
“It’s just helping people in a way I can help them. I don’t have room for horses to come or room for people to come and park an RV but it’s a way I can help give back.”