Kensington residents come together for fire victims

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Nancy MacPhee
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Jamie MacKay helped spearhead the effort to provide shelter, food and support to the 18 people who were displaced by fire at Clermont Apartments Monday evening. 

KENSINGTON — Jumping to action was second nature to Jamie MacKay. 

When he heard of the fire at Clermont Apartments, where his daughter, Samantha, lives, he immediately took to social media, starting a chain reaction that ensured those left homeless had a warm place to stay, food to eat and clothing on their backs.

RELATED: Fire causes evacuation of Kensington apartment building

“I was just out with a friend of mine on the snowshoes when my wife sent me a text saying Samantha called and said the apartments are on fire,” said the Irishtown resident on Tuesday. “I wasn’t far from home, so I got home as quick as I could.”

Once he learned his daughter was safe, MacKay, a parishioner at Kensington United Church who oversees the rental of its Murray Christian Centre, jumped into action.

“I thought how many other people are sitting outside with nowhere to go.”

After a few quick calls — to the RCMP officer on scene, the pastor of the church and Mayor Rowan Caseley — MacKay was on a snowmobile heading to Kensington.

“Driving it is five minutes but it took us an hour on the snowmobile to get there,” said MacKay, humble and somewhat reluctant to talk about his role in the effort. “We kept getting lost in the whiteouts in the fields and ended up way out in Margate.”

Before he arrived, thanks to a plea for aid via Facebook, help quickly flooded in.

Nearby residents came to clear snow and others, like David Boucher, owner of the Kensington Food Basket, brought food, blankets, pillows and other staples.  

A plow escorted the fire victims into the centre, where they were given hot soup, coffee and blankets. Some residents, themselves stormed-in, strapped on snowshoes, skies and walked to deliver what they had available to help.

“So many people showed up. It was amazing,” said MacKay. “There was more than enough blankets and pillows for everybody, more than enough food.”

The town’s mayor isn’t surprised by how the community rallied around its neigbours in need.

“That’s the beauty of Prince Edward Island and small towns, everybody recognizes that, by the grace of god, it could be them,” said Caseley. “They would welcome someone to step up and help when they need it. That’s just everybody’s nature. In tough times. . . that’s when really the best of everybody comes out.

“We’re a charitable community with a big heart.”

Sandy Champion, now homeless, agreed.

“The support from the Town of Kensington and everybody, it is astounding,” said Champion. “I am beyond words when I think about it. I am just so overwhelmed.”

She, like most of her neighbours at Clermont Apartments, spent the night at the emergency shelter.

“The food that was at the shelter was amazing. There were people there cooking for us and had coffee ready. We didn’t even have to pour our own coffee,” she added. “It was just amazing.”

RCMP officer, Const. Gabe Letourneau, even made the trek back to the hotel on treacherous roads to pick up one of the resident’s diabetes medication.

MacKay and others stayed with the fire victims throughout the night, getting little sleep so they could ensure everyone was taken care of, safe and warm.

The Canadian Red Cross has now taken over and the temporary shelter now closed.

The fire victims are being housed, temporarily, at a Summerside hotel.

To help or to donate, contact the P.E.I. division of the Canadian Red Cross at (902) 628-6262.

Organizations: RCMP, Kensington United Church, Canadian Red Cross Summerside hotel P.E.I. division

Geographic location: Kensington, Irishtown, Margate Prince Edward Island

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