On Saturday evening, Mayor Gene Sobolewski performed at Bonnyville LIVE as part of a fundraiser to benefit the Fort McMurray Relief efforts. The Mayor, looking as natural with a guitar on stage, as he does with a gavel in Council Chambers, says he hopes Bonnyville is a shining example for the rest of the province on what can be done with a little generosity and kindness.
“In my mind, we’re the model for everybody else,” Mayor Sobolewski says of Bonnyville’s efforts in welcoming neighbours from Fort Mac. He highlights volunteer’s ability to quickly come together and organize events, fundraisers, and donation drives. The Town staff and Council working with the Municipal District (MD) of Bonnyville, to communicate with the Province, the residents of Bonnyville, as well as, the evacuees. “The world is watching and the world is seeing the velocity of Bonnyville & our hard work.”
“More importantly, the evacuees are relaxing. They’re taking a load off in hotel beds and campsites,” Bonnyville was one of the first communities to welcome evacuees. A local hotel, Microtel, immediately put out notice that they were welcoming evacuees in their 80 rooms to stay for free for up to seven days. After that they offered a “compassion rate.” All the other local hotels offered a compassion rate for evacuees; such as the Neighbourhood Inn, whose parent company Westcorp is matching donations to Fort Mac Relief up to $10,000.
Donations of clothing and food flooded in, as the community rallied to organize the items, and now the donation centre is flush and full. “They have the ability to get clothing and food; and the ability to relax.” With the donation centre being full, the Town will send out a special Call for Items, should specific items be needed. For the time being, they have asked that item donations stop; however, monetary donations are still needed and can be directed to the Red Cross.
“I’m hoping there were some [Fort McMurray evacuees] in the audience and enjoyed the different stylings of music,” Bonnyville LIVE is an open mic-esq event held once a month at the Lyle Victor. Anyone can perform, with one stipulation, all music must be live. The Bonnyville LIVE stage is known for fostering talents such as Brett Kissel, Renee Malo and Mayor Gene Sobolewski’s band, the Boyz in Black. Typically, the audience gets just as roudy as the artists on stage, the Mayor says Saturday was no different, “lots of audience participation; I’m very happy.” The event on Saturday was a special Bonnyville LIVE to raise money for Fort Mac they held an additional show for May. “It was a good, energetic crowd. They were into it.”
As of Saturday evening, there are 670 registered evacuees staying in and around Bonnyville, that have checked in at the Bonnyville Centennial Centre. The Centennial Centre is the official check in centre and can help evacuees find services, as well as, helps the Province keep track of where evacuees are staying. “I think we may even have more, a shadow population,” Mayor Sobolewski says just from how the donations draw out he figures the unofficial count may be quite higher.