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Volunteers clean yards, share tears in aftermath of Fiona

By Shane Ross

The morning after post-tropical storm Fiona ravaged P.E.I., Mary MacLean opened the door of her Stratford home and couldn’t believe what she saw: a big mess of trees and branches spread all over her property.

“I just looked at it over and over and said, ‘Oh dear what will I do?'”

MacLean, 77, couldn’t tackle the job alone, so she called a few cleanup companies and was put on their waiting lists. Her son and his friend were able to at least clear a path to the house.

But the tall spruce trees that once stood over her property were still lying lifeless in her yard.

As the days passed, she reached out to Samaritan’s Purse, a “nondenominational evangelical Christian organization providing spiritual and physical aid to hurting people around the world,” according to its website.

On Oct. 26, a crew arrived with chainsaws, a front-end loader and plenty of enthusiasm. Two-and-a-half hours later it was cleaned up and MacLean could breathe a sigh of relief.

“I just about cried. I was overwhelmed to see so many people working and working so hard and doing so much.”

Rachel Olson, who flew from Alberta to join Samaritan’s Purse cleanup efforts on P.E.I., sees that kind of gratitude often from the people they help.

“They’ve been amazing,” she said.

“They’ll bake cookies or give us a glass of ice water. And then when we leave, we always go and we present them with the Bible and we get a chance to pray with them if they’re OK with that, and they weep and they cry and they tell us stories.”

Losing a tree can be sad for homeowners. They’ve heard stories of trees that were planted by grandparents, Olson said. Sometimes the group does more than just physical labour.

“These people, they’re not just dealing with the loss of trees and yard, they’re dealing with like the loss of memories and that’s very dear to them.”
— Rachel Olson

“These people, they’re not just dealing with the loss of trees and yard, they’re dealing with like the loss of memories and that’s very dear to them. So it was, it was almost like a twofold level of overwhelmed. Like how do you help the people with their emotional trauma and how do you help make the yard whole again.”

Olson came to P.E.I. about three weeks ago. She and others have been staying at a church in Stratford.

“We’re sleeping in the sanctuaries and in the Sunday school classrooms. And we have four lovely ladies who stay there at the church all day and prepare meals for us and they feed us way too well.”

Olson said she was excited to come P.E.I. to help. She raised some funds for the flight to P.E.I., and learned to use a chainsaw. The group has been helping people like MacLean for weeks.

“I think that it’s really important for us to be loving our neighbours,” Olson said.

MacLean agrees.

“I can’t go out and volunteer to do that kind of thing but I know there are people who can and don’t realize that opportunity is there.”

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