When heavy rainfall battered the southern region of Quebec this May, it caused the worst flooding the area had seen in two decades. As water washed over cities and towns, thousands of people were forced to leave their homes and now face the long process of rebuilding.

The Salvation Army was called in by the city of Rigaud, Que., to provide support in the aftermath of the flood—an operation that continued for 25 days. It was the largest response I have co-ordinated as the manager of emergency disaster services in the Quebec Division.

While providing emotional and spiritual support at the emergency shelter, I met a family of evacuees—a young woman named Josie, along with her parents, husband and son, who has a severe disability. I had many opportunities to talk with Josie, to listen with love and faith and share with her in this difficult time. I gave a Salvation Army teddy bear to her son, who happily received it and named it “Adi” because he couldn’t say Armée du Salut. I promised Josie that I would make inquiries regarding community groups in Rigaud and other avenues of assistance that might be available for her and her family.

After a week at the emergency shelter, I was absent for two days to attend to other matters, but when I came back, Josie and her family were not there anymore. I couldn’t give her the information that I had promised, and I didn’t feel good about that. I was also sad that I didn’t have the opportunity to say goodbye before they left. We may have spent only a short time together, but the links we created were strong.

Severe flooding closes a road in Rigaud, Que.Severe flooding closes a road in Rigaud, Que.
On May 26, one week later, we were out in the community doing a second round of distributing clean-up kits. We came upon a street where most of the houses were not affected by the flooding. All were untouched, except three.

I told my team to go on to the next street—I would take care of these houses. I went to our supply truck, picked up three clean-up kits and approached the first house.

A person came to the door. It was Josie.

When she saw me she opened her arms, smiled widely and cried, “Hey!” I apologized for not having the chance to give her the information she needed on time and explained that when I came back they had already left. She told me that it was not a big deal, and said she was happy to see me again.

They were grateful for the clean-up kits and thanked me for the support they received from The Salvation Army. I said I was so happy to see them in their home again, and Josie asked me if she could give me a hug. Of course, I said it was OK!

But the best part of our reunion was seeing her mother again. When we talked while they were staying at the emergency shelter, she was distant and upset. She was trying to face the situation with strength, but her face reflected the stress and worry she was feeling.

When I saw her that day, she was transformed. Her face was full of light, she was smiling and she asked me for a hug, too.

At the end of the day, when I logged on to Facebook, I had a new notification—Josie had commented on the photos I had shared of The Salvation Army receiving a thank-you decal from the city of Rigaud for our canteen truck. She wrote: “Notre collant de Rigaud est petit … mais notre MERCI est GÉANT” (“The decal from Rigaud is small … but our thank you is huge”).

In times of crisis, our actions may seem small, but I thank God for these opportunities. If we can make a difference in the life of even one family, then we are giving hope today.

Vanessa Pérugien is the manager of emergency disaster services in the Quebec Division and a soldier at Montreal Citadel.

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