Palliser students step up for Fort McMurray

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 From left to right: Deb McCormick from Nieboer Farm Supplies, student leadership team member Katelyn Arik, and Penny Balfour of the Red Cross pose with Noble Central School’s big cheque.

NOBLEFORD – Penny Balfour witnessed a lot of tragedy first-hand as a frontline responder with Canadian Red Cross relief efforts. Now she’s experiencing the overwhelming support offered Fort McMurray residents from the likes of staff and students at Palliser Regional Schools.

Balfour, in her new role as community outreach associate at the Red Cross office in Lethbridge, recently stopped by Noble Central School (NCS) to accept a donation of more than $6,500 towards Fort McMurray disaster relief.  In addition to collecting financial donations from students, staff, family and other community members, that total was augmented by the sale of baked goods and ice cream.

The outpouring of support – especially the efforts of school children – provides Balfour with a real sense of optimism for the future.

“These young people are stepping up to the plate at literally five and six years old and showing what it means to be a good citizen,” she said, her voice cracking with emotion. “This generation that’s coming up is showing us there’s going to be a lot of people who are willing to step up and help those who are really in need, whatever that looks like.”

Among those quick to donate at Noble Central School was kindergarten student Sydney Simmonds. Her father, an electrical superintendent with PCL, has worked in Fort McMurray for the past 12 years.

Although Collin managed to fly home the day before the entire city was forced to evacuate, his six-year-old daughter had been quite distraught about the whole situation. When her mom Desiree mentioned plans to donate to relief efforts, Sydney said she wanted to contribute too and came up with $121 in coins and a few bills.

“We have this young girl who feels like she wants to do something and she reaches into her piggy back and takes every little nickel that’s in there,” said Balfour. “It just fills your heart with joy to think that people have so much compassion.”

Desiree and her husband have always encouraged their daughter to think of others. In the past Sydney has done things like asking guests to donate books to the library in lieu of birthday presents.

“It feels really good that our daughter is already doing good deeds,” said Desiree.

Noble Central School also enjoyed the support of community partners like Nieboer Farm Supplies, which sent two large trucks filled with water and dry goods to Fort McMurray and was looking for available transport to send another load north. Picture Butte Feeders was also generous in its support.

“In a time of crisis it's nice to see Albertans help Albertans, and the people surrounding the Noble Central community really stepped up,” said NCS Principal Greg Rollingson.

Students at Dorothy Dalgliesh School , who collected some of the items that were turned over to Nieboer Farm Supplies, got a chance to learn a little more about the scope of the tragedy from Nathan Gilchrist, a Fort McMurray firefighter whose nephew attends the Picture Butte school.  To view the article which ran in the Sunny South News, go to

A number of schools across Palliser have shared their love and resources with Fort McMurray.

In addition to those efforts highlighted earlier, R.I. Baker Middle School in Coaldale raised $1,134 through a pancake breakfast and canteen proceeds from “Snack for Fort Mac” day. The school’s Student Leadership Committee already had the pancake breakfast in the works as a community building activity but saw the opportunity to help others in need.

Coalhurst Elementary School donated $500 towards Red Cross efforts with money coming from the sale of baked goods, friendship bracelets made by several Grade 6 students and a generous donation from school secretary, Barb Vos.

Master's College in Calgary held a benefit concert for Fort McMurray with music students performing during the lunch hour. Students attending donated a total of $430, with half the money going to the Salvation Army and the other to the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in the northern community.

The Alberta Teachers’ Association Local 19 donated $1,500 to the Red Cross to assist in relief efforts and the student leadership group at Calgary Christian Elementary School will be hosting a bake sale for the cause on May 31.

For even more Fort McMurray efforts, see our story from May 13th.