As fires rage in Canada, perfect strangers become heroes and friends.

An unrelenting wildfire in Western Canada has forced the evacuation of more than 88,000 people.

The massive blaze devastated the bustling town of Fort McMurray, Alberta, which was evacuated on May 3. More communities have followed suit, with Gregoire Lake Estates and Anzac residents also forced to evacuate.


A photograph from the Alberta Agriculture and Forestry Department shows smoke rising from a heavily wooded area. Photo by Lynn Daina /AFP/Getty Images.

Whipping winds pushed flames toward homes and businesses, as clouds of thick smoke filled the air. Residents barely had time to get out, only grabbing the bare necessities before fleeing to safety at one of the area's work camps, which are doubling as temporary shelters.

A young girl sits on a cot at a makeshift shelter. Photo by Cole Burston/AFP/Getty Images.

"For some reason I really wanted my son's first pair of shoes," evacuee Jason Blair told CBC television.

But amidst uncertainty, fear, and destruction, there are helpers and there is hope.

All across Canada, emergency response professionals, civilians, and perfect strangers are stepping up to help each other and get through this tragedy. Here are a few of the bright spots in the wake of this disaster.

1. Countless people have pitched in to donate clothes and food.

When you have to run for your life, clean clothes quickly become a luxury. Alberta residents stepped up big time for their neighbors in need. Food, diapers, and baby formula were also popular donations.

A woman sorts through donations at makeshift evacuation center in Lac La Biche, Alberta. Photo by Cole Burston/AFP/Getty Images.

And not a moment too soon.

2. Canadian airline WestJet lent a hand — er, wing — for the cause.

They flew supplies in and offered to evacuate anyone in need of medical treatment.


3. In situations like this, everyone needs water. Les Wiley took to the streets to deliver it some to people evacuating their homes.

Photo by Cole Burston/AFP/Getty Images.

4. These workers from construction company Ledcor live at camps for long stretches, but they happily gave up their beds to people evacuating the fire.

5. These refugees from Syria are new to Calgary, but they're no stranger to loss. That's why they're helping out the evacuees.

Annalise Klingbeil of the Calgary Herald spoke with one new Canadian, who shared why she feels such a strong desire to help.

6. The community is stepping up for four-legged friends too.

The Edmonton Humane Society is rescuing and housing displaced and stray animals from the area indefinitely until the owners return to claim them. Local store Champion Petfoods is supplying free food for dogs and cats at their main office.

Hang in there, kitty. This purr-fect pet isn't in Edmonton, but lots of sweet displaced dogs and cats are. Photo by Angela N./Flickr.

Ready to pitch in? Here are the best ways to help.

If you're in Canada, especially Alberta, consider donating needed supplies to an emergency relief location. Call or tweet before you go to make sure they're accepting donations, especially the items you'd like to contribute.

Madeline Cummings of the Edmonton Examiner shared a list of needs from one emergency outpost.

And if you're not close by (or even if you are) and your budget allows, you might consider giving a monetary contribution.

When tragedy strikes, food and supplies can go a long way, but with cash, shelters can buy things in bulk, so your $5 donation may go farther than $5 spent on canned goods at the store.

No matter how you help, it's important that we come together to support each other.

In times like these, every hug, every kind word, and every donation can mean the world to someone in need. With acts of kindness big and small, all of us can help the families and communities affected by tragedy.

Photo by Cole Burston/AFP/Getty Images.

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Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

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Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.

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True

If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.

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