Kristopher Mercer was just getting to sleep in his home in Edmonton last week when his phone started lighting up with messages.
“I went on Facebook and I looked and I started seeing about the fires that were happening and right away I knew,” he says.
Mercer got to work mobilizing a network of organizations and volunteers who fall under the banner “The Postmen” in order to start shipping food and supplies towards the Cariboo.
The group started in 2016 in response to the Fort McMurray fires. Mercer, who hails originally from Fort McMurray, got a call from his brother saying people were on the highway needed fuel. Mercer made his way up, putting a message onto social media that he was on his way. By the end of the trip, he says, there was a convoy of people passing out donations to those stuck on the roads.
From there the group expanded, helping evacuees across Alberta.
When Mercer saw the need in B.C., he volunteered his and the group’s experience and network to aid wildfire victims throughout the province.
Leaving his three children with a volunteer nanny in Edmonton, Mercer made his way to Kamloops where he and other volunteers started gathering donations in a local’s backyard. Soon after, he says, they moved to the Salvation Army where they helped stock goods from there. When the Salvation Army no longer needed the Postmen’s help, they moved to a donated spot at the Sun Valley Container yard in east Kamloops and set up a distribution centre there.
Daily shipments come into Kamloops from donation centres across B.C. and Alberta and Mercer directs them north up Highway 20 to a food bank set up at the Interlakes Community Centre, who recieve shipments from the Postmen and other groups. From there, local volunteers have been co-ordinating shipments to other food banks set up across the South Cariboo — Lone Butte, 70 Mile, and Forest Grove.
The Forest Grove Community Hall is now set up to push the food farther north, reaching areas mostly cut off by evacuation orders such as Lac la Hache, Horsefly and Likely.
The Postmen’s aim now is to pass the torch on to volunteers in British Columbia.
“The goal is to come in and advise with what we did and then they take that and they roll with it,” he says. “So B.C. is the one stepping up here. They’re the ones up there in the centres that have gotten this stuff out.”
The motto of the Postmen, according to Mercer, is “servicing people by the people.”
He’s been working closely with Bea Peter, who, although operating the shipments north from Kamloops, is normally based out of Quesnel.
When they heard about the evacuees coming south to Kamloops from Williams Lake, arriving at the Sandman Centre in the middle of the night to register for Emergency Social Services Mercer and Peter got to work.
They loaded up their truck with blankets, snacks and clothing and headed to the Sandman Centre where they unloaded for people to take what they need.
They’ve also put out a call to Northern B.C. to send shipments of food and fire fighting supplies to Quesnel with the aim of bringing them into the Chilcotin, where ranchers and First Nations have remained despite evacuation orders to protect their communities.
All of the Postmen’s work is co-ordinated over social media.
When “social media postmen” hear about a need for supplies, they put a call out over a Facebook Messenger chat and through their Facebook group.
“If I need a truck, I need volunteers, he goes on social media and he tells the crew online in our group chat. They take it and they plaster it all over social media,” says Mercer.
“If it comes in, it comes in, but in the meantime, we have the donation centres of our own setup, so they’re out recruiting and they’re out talking to people and gathering donations. They get it and then they send it to us, so once we get it … we take that and we put it out to the places that need it.”
In Kamloops, trucks get loaded with food and supplies and sent north as soon as possible.
“People are hearing about this all across Canada and they just keep sending it and we take it in here and we load up trucks and we get it up to other places. There are people from all different groups, backgrounds, companies.”
The Postmen joins other efforts to bring food into the Cariboo. There are shipments outside of the Postmen that are sending food and supplies directly to the Interlakes, and the 100 Mile House Save-On-Foods donated $8,000 worth of food to food banks in the area.
Just today, July 19, the Interlakes Community Centre co-ordinated a non-Postmen shipment coming from Fort McMurray and other Alberta areas to be sent further north. Some of the supplies were repacked and picked up by Timber Mart owner Mike Anderson, who will be brining it to a drop off point in Williams Lake for it to get brought to residents in the surrounding areas and the Chilcotin.
The Postmen organization also includes “City Postmen,” and “Pet Postmen.”
At evacuee centres, City Postmen provide snacks and essential supplies to those waiting in line, with the aim of helping the lines move quicker or making it easier for those in them.
Pet Postmen have made deliveries of pet food around evacuation centres and to the areas they ship food to and are also set up behind fire lines, setting up trail cameras to catch animals left behind until their owners can be found.
When the Free Press spoke with Mercer and Peter, they were in the process of planning a new approach of getting shipments into the Chilcotin, figuring out the best way to get food past fire lines, who had permits, which roads were open, and which communities needed supplies. They had just put out the call to Northern B.C. for supplies.
Phone calls and Facebook messages were being answered by the minute with requests for food and aid, while Google maps containing the location of donation depots were checked and updated.
When a truck comes in, the group drops everything to load up supplies to get them back out the door where they are needed.
Mercer says it’s not about joining an organization to be a Postman. Rather, it’s about seeing a need and helping.
“You don’t have to be here to be a Postman. You can be somebody that is going around and just delivering supplies to those that need it. If you are doing that, you are are a Postman.”