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United Way of Halifax releases wildfire fundraising report

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The United Way of Halifax said it raised and distributed $1.5 million in funding following the 2023 wildfires in Nova Scotia.

The charity released the figures in a wildfire recovery report to its donors this week and say they are working on taking all lessons learned to improve the way they handle climate change disasters.

The United Way of Halifax’s director of social impact strategy, Sue LaPierre, says all money raised went to community support agencies who were helping people impacted by the wildfires in the Halifax area and in southwestern Nova Scotia.

"We always work with service providers in community, they know community best,” said LaPierre. “They understand the issues, they know the people and it's often the service providers who community members are more familiar with and comfortable going to."

The impacts of the 2023 wildfires are still being felt in communities like Tantallon, Hammonds Plains and in Barrington and Shelburne, especially by those who lost their homes and businesses from the disasters.

LaPierre says the wildfire funding was meant to help support those who were impacted the most.

"People who were experiencing poverty, experiencing marginalization or who were at risk because of the wildfires of being pushed into poverty,” said LaPierre.

The wildfire in Upper Tantallon and Halifax region last year forced 16,000 people to flee their homes and destroyed more than 150 homes and structures.

Dustin O'Leary and his family were among those forced to evacuate but said he was lucky as their home wasn’t impacted.

But as the president of the Westwood Hills Residents Association he’s been helping those who lost their home get support.

O’Leary said the Westwood Hills Residents Association applied to the United Way and received $25,000 to help deliver aid to residents of that community.

"I think there was definitely a need, it was good that was it filled by the United Way and I can't be anything more than appreciative by the effort,” said O’Leary.

But there were challenges, O’Leary said they couldn’t directly handover cash so supports had to be specific and issued through gift cards for everyday essential items like food, clothing and other items.

Looking back, O'Leary says those in the greatest need were those who lost everything, and they had to seek help from several community organizations just to get by instead of finding the support in one convenient place.

"In the future you wouldn’t want that happening because that caused a lot of frustrations for folks who were going through so much at that time,” said O’Leary.

LaPierre said the United Way is evaluating its response to the wildfires and is working closely with the Change Lab Action Research Initiative (CLARI) and St. Mary’s University to understand how their support and impacts measured up.

“This is fairly new for United Way to find itself in a climate response, because there are other responders who do very well in that space,” said LaPierre.

The United Way is moving to combine and partner with agencies like the Canadian Red Cross during climate disaster events to make sure fundraising money goes to the right people at the right time.

“We want to make sure, if and when we have to respond again, we’ve learned form things in the past, what worked and didn’t work and what we can do better,” said LaPierre.

Part of that is being prepared fro the next emergency said LaPierre and they are establishing a team and plan do deal with that through their newly established Climate Change Adaption and Disaster Relief Fund.

For more Nova Scotia news visit our dedicated provincial page.

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