I felt compelled to respond to the shocking negative publicity, even slander and personal threats of attacks that have been directed at Melissa Gunning and her from-the-heart personal project to aid victims of the Slave Lake, Alberta fires this spring.
I simply couldn’t sit back and watch her reputation be shredded in the court of public opinion without airing the facts as I know them.
I worked in close tandem with Melissa, arranging my own drive in coordination with hers, loading up the first truck that went directly to Slave Lake, then working at her warehouse to get everything there organized. I just want to share a few facts about this story that aren’t so apparent from the media accounst:
1- Several loads had already reached Slave Lake. This project already had successfully sent at least two 18-wheeler loads of organized, relevant (what they needed, not junk) donations directly to Slave Lake, which was processed by the authorities in charge there and not turned away.
2- Melissa’s project was inundated even after we had asked for no more items. Due the abundance of media coverage and word of mouth at the time, Melissa’s warehouse became a default drop off point for both individuals as well as organizations (small businesses often) that had – in good faith- been collecting items from their constituents.
3- We weren’t able to find organizations who could take our items at that time, as warehouses were full. We were hearing a lot of “no thank you’s” as the entire charitable community also got inundated when the spillover of donations ended up in staying in town instead of going to Slave Lake.
4- Communication amongst well-intentioned and good-doing organizations isn’t always as clear as it may appear.
5- When charitable organizations are only taking certain items, the distribution logistics can be quite complicated.
6- Great care was taken to ensure all items went to people in need. On her own dime, she paid for several months’ of storage at a warehouse and the time of a paid project manager and assistant to do nothing but handle the volunteer organization and distribution of these items. She worked tirelessly to get the items to a good place after Slave Lake closed its doors to donations.
7- After exhausting other avenues, the distribution of donations was outsourced. After several months of sorting, storing, and financing the project Melissa and the project manager decided to enlist the help of private company Just Junk that touted itself as seeking charitable organizations for items prior to dumping them. I can tell you that while a few clothing items had tags on them- which is so tragic- many of the items I saw on the news report were completely damaged beyond usability, such as a crib.
Where was the media and community attention on the good works she incited when we closed the door on the 18-wheelers and they chugged off toward Slave Lake? Not a single one of us volunteers wanted anything to end up in the trash if it was usable at all by anyone at all. Amongst us were staunch environmentalists, recyclers, and community advocates who only wanted the best for all items. That we penalize volunteers for not doing everything perfectly in such a traumatizing way is not only shameful but is part of the reason why more people don’t get involved.
I hope that we don’t lose Melissa in the world of charity and non-profitable works. She is a gem and has been a huge asset to this community. I wanted to share this alternative perspective.
Editor’s note: this letter has been edited for length and style.