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University college opens doors to fleeing families

By Lasha Morningstar
Western Catholic Reporter

05/18/2016

A smiling St. Joseph’s College employee poked her head around Danica Wolitski’s door and said, “We’ve got another family with three children”

“Great,” said Wolitski.

The translation of that triumphant discourse means a family fleeing the fire-storm ravaging Fort McMurray has found safe housing here in Edmonton.

The housing comes from vacant apartments at the new women’s residence (dubbed the Ilanders) at St. Joseph’s College on the University of Alberta campus.

The college is focusing on families and those deemed medically vulnerable.

Families are expected, says Wolitski, given the lack of privacy in cot-lined bar-racks in various evacuation centres across northern Alberta. The college is especially concerned to provide homes for families with upset little children and fussing babies.

The vulnerable will be those with medical conditions, especially women with high-risk pregnancies. The U of A Hospital is right next door.

There is no one person who gets all the credit for this refugee housing suggestion.

“A bunch of us all came up with the same idea at the same time,” said Wolitski

Once she posted the plan on her personal website, donations came in almost instantaneously.

The goal is to take in 10 families. The apartments are ideal because they also have kitchen facilities. The newcomers could be there anywhere from six weeks to two months.

The ones already seeking refuge include those with extended families and also a pregnant mother.

The setting is ideal since there is a full cafeteria, four counsellors available to meet the traumatized survivors and chaplain Basilian Father Glenn McDonald even has a weekly children’s liturgy program.

This all costs money. Edmonton’s Catholic Social Services has been in touch and has offered to help out. Private donations are also coming their way as the story reaches the community.

Touching too is the response from other charities. Goodwill called and sent over 100 comforters. As well, the campus food bank donated gift baskets of food.

Bottom line for the fleeing souls from Fort McMurray, said Wolitski, “They are safe here.”