Sunflowers offer hope

By: Tammy Rollie

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Jun 11, 2014 08:28 am

The High River United Church is distributing sunflower seeds to communities across the foothills as part of its Sunflower Project.
The High River United Church is distributing sunflower seeds to communities across the foothills as part of its Sunflower Project.

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A High River church is spreading roots deep into the ground to help communities recovering from the devastating effects of last year’s flood.

After learning sunflower plants were used to absorb toxins from the soil in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, members of the High River United Church put a call out via Facebook in March asking for donations of sunflower seeds to distribute to its citizens in what it’s calling The Sunflower Project.

“It was very evident that when the Red Cross and other volunteers from across North America were here in the early days following the flood they were making direct parallels with (Hurricane) Katrina,” said David Robertson, minister staff member at the High River United Church. “They were seeing the same or worse situations here.”

Response to The Sunflower Project was greater than Robertson expected.

He was hoping to collect 4,000 packages of seeds to distribute to High River residents, but the Facebook account received almost 6,000 hits and more than 18,000 packages of sunflower seeds were donated from churches, schools, volunteer organizations and other groups from around the world.

With more than they needed for their own community, Robertson said they decided to give seeds to other flood-affected communities including Black Diamond, Turner Valley, Bragg Creek, Siksika Nation and Calgary.

“We know that the flood affected a much wider region,” he said. “As much as it’s hard to think bigger when you are so focused on your own reconstruction and recovery from trauma and the physical things that go on beyond just the repairs, our congregation is mindful of the communities around us. It’s just the nature of our congregation, being aware and mindful that we are not alone in this.”

After putting about 4,000 packages in the mail for High River residents last month, complete with information about the sunflower project and drawings from the church’s Sunday school, Robertson set to work contacting other communities.

Shannon Bailey, a member of Bragg Creek’s Recreate the Creek Committee, said the project fits the committee’s goal to remediate the hamlet following the flooding of the Elbow River. In fact, they requested 1,000 packages from the High River United Church.

Bailey said the community is getting volunteer groups together to analyze the community street by street and come up with solutions to improve it, and a deal was struck between Rocky View County and the provincial and federal governments to install water and wastewater piping into the ground for hamlet residents who previously operated on wells and septic tanks.

“This is very useful, given the job that (sunflowers) do in helping to build the soil,” she said. “There’s an awful lot of stress and people’s natural environments have been absolutely devastated, so this is a chance to put plants and good colour back into the ground and at the same time clean the contaminated soil. This is something positive we can all do and get involved with, so we are quite thrilled.”

Marilyn Evans, reverend at the Lewis Memorial United Church in Turner Valley, said the church congregation will distribute the 125 packages they received last week to affected residents in Black Diamond and Turner Valley. Some will also be available for pick-up in the event someone is missed.

“When David Robertson called and invited us to share in the project of course we were very pleased to do that,” she said. “I thought it was just a wonderful heartfelt expression of care.”

Evans said she’s always viewed sunflowers as a symbol of hope, resilience and strength, and she hopes that’s exactly what they offer Diamond Valley residents.

“We’re wanting people in our area to know that we continue to care and journey with them and that they are not alone,” she said.

Evans said pictures drawn by the church’s Sunday school youngsters will be attached to the packages before they are delivered.

Davidson said he is glad to see The Sunflower Project spreading across the region.

“The vision was to have something bright and cheery in every household to help provide a little ray of hope for all of the homes in High River,” he said. “When a community is hit hard and suffering on all levels from a natural disaster, support whether it be a prayer or thoughts or in this case sending over seeds, offers an overwhelming feeling that we are not alone.

Those gestures of courage and hope and compassion go a long way to help people recover.


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