It was coldFriday afternoon at the Langley airport, British Columbia. Shaun Bradley Heaps dressed in his signature shorts welcomed a team of fellow pilots back from an emergency mission delivering food, necessities, and relief to flood-ravaged Southern BC towns.
“There’s butter chicken and samosas over there,” said the pilot and member of the West Coast Pilots Club, pointing towards the glowing yellow door of a nearby hangar. He explained that the coolers with curry, boxes filled with crispy samosas and chapatis wrapped in aluminum foil had been donated by a local Sikh temple.
Around a dozen other pilots were inside, relaxing after delivering vital goods through rugged mountain passes. For more than two weeks, this volunteer flying squad—Heaps’ brainchild—has collected thousands of pounds of food and other essentials from across the Lower Mainland and used privately owned propeller planes and helicopters to deliver it to roughly 30 communities isolated after last month’s floods. They have received donations or money from their families to pay for fuel and supplies.
The crew shipped nearly 9,000 kilograms worth of goods to Merritt, Boston Bar and Siska on Friday alone. “A bunch of private pilots are doing more than the federal government,” Heaps said as he waited for another flight to land.
While he acknowledged authorities have provided some support, people in the stranded communities are telling him the provincial and federal governments seem content to leave it to volunteers and donations to meet people’s ongoing needs. “So we’re just keeping on resupplying and resupplying,” he said. “How [else] are they supposed to survive?”
Held together with plastic wrap, each pile had been carefully built by the volunteers to contain most items on “shopping” lists sent to the group by impacted communities, said Brenda Lennax, the team’s dispatch manager. Lennax owns several small businesses in Maple Ridge BC. When the floods hit, she told all her clients she was taking time off to help out—even as her own family was evacuated. “I’m supposed to be here,” she explained during a brief lull in the packing frenzy.
Within 15 minutes, the first plane was loaded: Costco-sized boxes of granola bars & Kraft Dinner were stuffed behind passenger seats. Twelve-packs each of pop and water were placed against mega-packs full of diapers, baby wipes and toilet paper. The floor was covered in bags of chicken feed and livestock feed. Fleece blankets covered any remaining spaces before the pilot attached a cargo net to the load to keep it in its place.
“It has all been coming from all the Sikh temples, Sikh communities, Hindu temples, Jews, Muslims—all community churches are donating a ton of food,” explained the group’s supplies and provisions manager Pritpal Singh Sekhorn as he double-checked each load. “(The flying squad) is bringing everyone under one umbrella to reach the flood-affected communities as soon as possible.”
There are enough donations to fill three airport hangars and a nearby warehouse nearby—and Heaps said more keeps coming. “It’s endless. They even send dog food if we have to feed our dogs. They bring batteries, horse feed…(we) make a phone call and it shows up.”
Many communities are still weeks or even months away from regular road access. People and animals need food, so it is unlikely that excess supplies will go to waste. The flying squad is increasing its efforts to make Christmas easier for those who are cut off from their families and friends.
“It’s all about love,” Lennax said.