If, as the Bible says, God “placed the cedar in the desert,” it is the volunteers with Samaritan’s Purse who cut it into pieces and drag it to the curb to be picked up.
When the devastating May 21 Derecho storm system swept across Ottawa, knocking over cedars and pines, maples and willows, the Christian charity Samaritan’s Purse was one of the first to answer the call for help. From its mobile base in the Metropolitan Bible Church parking lot on Prince of Wales Drive, Samaritan’s Purse coordinates the work of volunteers helping homeowners clear out their properties.
“Municipalities cannot transfer personal property. They don’t have permissions and it’s not really their job,” said Tammy Suitor, a Calgary mother and grandmother who oversees Samaritan Purse’s operations in Ottawa.
“They are responsible for cleaning up the city, the public space and the infrastructure. That is their role. Homeowners are really responsible for their own cleanup. That’s where we come in. That’s where we help. We don’t do public areas. We clean up private spaces.”
Suitor has about a dozen volunteers from across the country who act as leaders for the teams of volunteers she sends around town. When homeowners call for help, the call goes to the huge converted NASCAR trailer, the Disaster Relief Unit that serves as Samaritan’s Purse office, pantry and tool shop. The calls are prioritized and then a team is dispatched to assist.
Andrew Murphy, an intern at the Met church, was part of a team of about 10 Samaritan Purse volunteers in orange shirts who removed a fallen pine from a backyard on Edenbrook Court in the Country Place neighborhood off Merivale Road. Murphy himself was without power for 60 hours after the storm, but didn’t hesitate to volunteer elsewhere.
“It’s just another way for me to show Christ’s love to other people,” Murphy said, dragging branches and logs onto the street for city officials to pick up. “It’s very uplifting to see.”
In the backyard, other volunteers worked with chainsaws to chop the once-towering pine into manageable pieces and gently pry it from a fragile ornamental shrub.
It’s hot, sweaty work, but team leader James Bolleyn of Leamington, Ontario, was on hand to make sure it was done safely and correctly. There are limits to what his volunteers can do.
“If a tree is on a house or against power lines, we can’t touch it,” he said. “That’s something for the insurance companies.”
Bolleyn started working with Samaritan’s Purse a few years ago while helping with flood cleanup in Essex County. He realized it was humanitarian work he wanted to continue.
“It felt good,” he said. “I thought, ‘I have to go do this.’ †
Homeowner Subadra Kappagoda said she called Samaritan’s Purse for help after finding one of the flyers on her doorknob. Kappagoda and her husband, both 84, watched the storm break and saw the large tree fall.
“We’re just so thankful,” she said. “They’ve been great. And we also had a lot of help from our neighbors.”
It is not the first time that Samaritan’s Purse has been deployed in Ottawa. The charity helped clean up after the 2019 floods and the 2018 tornadoes. Last year, teams were deployed to BC, first after wildfires, then before flooding in the Lower Mainland. They helped after wildfires in Fort McMurray, Alta., and hurricanes in Atlantic Canada.
If you need assistance, you can register with the agency on its website, samaritanspurse.ca, or by calling 1-844-547-2663. If you’d like to volunteer, it’s best to register on the website or just show up ready to work in the parking lot of The Met, 2176 Prince of Wales Dr. The working day is from 7:30 am to 4:00 pm