My Hometown: Fort McMurray

Wildfires took everything but one woman finds joy again, thanks to an act of kindness from an unexpected source.

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Fort McMurray
Photo: Eldora Baillie

Vanquishing the Beast

It’s been more a year since “The Beast.” In May of 2016, the community of Fort McMurray, Alta., a remote northern city of 88,000 residents, was evacuated and ravished by a raging wildfire.

The day started like any other beautiful spring day in Fort McMurray. As I left for work the morning of May 3, it was hot and sunny, with blue skies. By noon, the city was in flames. The winds had shifted, sending uncontrolled wildfires towards the city limits and forcing me and nearly 90,000 other Fort McMurray residents to flee for safety.

As the evacuation alert was issued, I raced home from work to gather as many personal items as I could. When I arrived, firefighters were already coming door-to-door telling residents to evacuate. With just minutes to pack a few belongings, I left my home not knowing whether it was safe from the fires, or when I would be back.

As I slowly made my way south, I was horrified and saddened to see my city on fire. The abandoned vehicles, burning buildings, water-bombers, helicopters and remnants of burned trees were shocking. Thankfully, my husband and I had a safe place to go—my sister’s in Southern Alberta. Many of the city’s evacuees ended up in shelters. Compared to many, we were the lucky ones.

In the days following the evacuation, I was glued to all the media coverage and reports. The devastation continued to spread across northern Alberta and into Saskatchewan for the next two months, consuming approximately 1.5 million acres in total. The support and generosity that poured in from all over the world was staggering. From donations of money, gas, water, food shelter, clothing and so much more, everyone wanted to help. But it was one small gesture that helped my family get back to what was important.

Mine was one of hundreds of Fort McMurray families who lost everything that day. Most things we knew we could replace—beds, dishes, clothes. But in the chaos of everything, I left behind my craft supplies, quilts and sewing machine. Naturally, I was overwhelmed and distressed over being displaced; not knowing when I’d be able to quilt again made me even more upset. But while the fire stole my materials, it couldn’t touch my love for quilting.

I knew I needed some sense of normalcy to get through the trying months ahead, which is what inspired me to contact the online company Craftsy. I had no clue where to start, so I used the “live chat” feature and was connected with a woman named Lizzy. After explaining my situation, I simply asked if the company would consider replacing or reselling me the quilting items I’d recently purchased at cost to help me return to my favourite hobby. Little did I know, Lizzy and Craftsy had something bigger in mind.

Just after I returned to Fort McMurray, about a month after the fires, Lizzy surprised me with the news that Craftsy was sending care packages with quilting supplies to help me rebuild my crafting studio. A few weeks later, I received two more boxes packed full of everything from a rotary cutter, cutting mat and ruler to thread, ribbon and two quilting kits. The cherry on top was the Janome MC 8200 sewing machine—a top-of-the-line machine courtesy of Janome Canada. What more could I want? I had everything I needed to return my hobby, and I was officially back in quilting heaven!

As I continue to adjust to this “new normal” waiting to rebuild our home, Craftsy’s generosity has left an indelible impact on my life, and it couldn’t have come at a more meaningful time. After everything we’ve been through, Craftsy has given me a reason to laugh again. I am so proud of this organization and the people who work there, especially Lizzy and the entire management team, who truly care about Craftsy’s customers. I look forward to creating new projects and many years of happiness ahead because of Craftsy’s charitable spirit.

I’m now using the machine to make one of the quilt kits. Every time I use it, see it or even talk about it, my heart swells with my happiness. While my life rebuilds around me, quilting helps keep me smiling and focused on what’s important. “The Beast” tried to take everything that day, but it can never take quilting away from me. I thank Craftsy and Janome for helping me get back to what I love.

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Eldora Bailie with her new sewing machine
Photo: Eldora Baillie

Craftsy, an online retailer founded in Denver in 2011, offers supplies, kits and online video tutorials from creative experts who provide hands-on instruction about “everything from knitting and quilting to photography and cake decorating.” Lizzy, the customer support associate at Craftsy who first spoke to Eldora after the fire, shares her story with Our Canada.

“When Eldora reached out to us through the Craftsy website, her story struck us deeply,” Lizzy says. “Eldora had just lost her home and—with everything else—lost her entire quilting collection, kits, quilts and sewing machines. The one thing she needed and that could give her some peace during such a chaotic time in her life was quilting.

“She had recently bought some of our supplies, and initially reached out to see if we’d be willing to resell them,” Lizzy continues. “I knew immediately we needed to do more in order to take her mind off the disaster. We worked with Janome to put together two care packages and surprised her with all of her quilting kits and a brand-new Janome sewing machine.

“Eldora was overwhelmed with gratitude, and it was such a rewarding experience for all of us at Craftsy to help her get back to some- thing that brings her so much joy.”

Originally Published in Our Canada

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